What Do You Write?

While having a conversation with a woman at a party recently, she started telling me about an education book idea she had and wanted to write eventually. I mentioned that, even with only an outline of a nonfiction work, she could probably start putting out feelers to agents and publishers now and gauge if there is any interest. This worried her, as bad people could just steal her ideas, and she didn’t know who are actually reputable people to share her idea with.

So I mentioned some ways to get started with the right resources and then–big mistake, apparently–I told her I know about this stuff because I’ve been working my way back to writing myself.

“Oh? What do you write?” She just stood there expectantly, friendly smile on her face. Tell me all your hopes and dreams, she was suggesting.

When I paused, coughed, and started to hedge, “Well, uh, um–hmm,” she started to look puzzled.

Because answer is, “I don’t know yet.” Which felt like it was going to be a somewhat complicated answer to give and was going to require more explanation than I really felt comfortable giving to this person I never met before. Thankfully I was saved by a mutual friend’s interruption before I was forced to go into it, and as soon as I could, I beat it the hell out of there.

This woman expected a “real” answer–“I write romance novels” or “I write poetry” or “I’m developing an idea about a two-headed seaweed monster with a shoe fetish and a proclivity for rescuing kittens.” So is it strange that a person has the itchy fingers to write, but is simply at a loss of genre and form?

Which is why I’m trying my hand at a little bit of everything. How else am I going to figure out what it is that really drives me if I don’t test things out? My green folder of writing resources gets fatter by the day, as I find new categories and exercises and writing prompts to compile. My exercise book is filling with word lists and journal entries and character descriptions. I’ve already discovered I don’t hate writing poetry as much as I thought. Likewise, I doubt I’ll ever really want to write a screenplay or a fantasy novel but dadgum, I’ll give it all a shot.

But now I worry–am I going about this the wrong way? Do most writers make the decision on genre really early on? Or do others (like me) find these exercises and writing practices are actually useful in figuring out where they want to go?

I can only imagine that’s what the whole MFA thing is about–learning what to write, how to write it, and getting feedback from other writers about how you’re progressing. (The first two are pretty easy-to-find resources; I’ll work on the third when I’m ready.)

So basically, I’m starting to teach myself how to be a better writer without spending the few thousand dollars on school. So please, bear with me while I learn.

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