Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do You Know What Your Genre Is?

I’ve been thinking about parallels between story-telling and gardening. Both topics are fodder for a multitude of how-to books, workshops and classes. Both writing and gardening can be frustrating sink-holes that eat time and money, or they can reward us with beauty, exhilaration, and maybe even a little monetary gain.

God Himself has dabbled in both endeavors. He’s a God who planted a garden in Eden, and He’s a God who told stories about intriguing characters—the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the widow who wouldn’t stop pounding on the judge’s door in the middle of the night.

If there’s one lesson I wish I’d known when I first started writing, it’s that it pays to do your homework before you dig in. Part of the homework is discovering your natural bent. Each plot of land has a particular type of soil, a certain exposure to sun and wind, and terrain that’s right for some plants and wrong for others. We wouldn’t plant alpine flowers in a cornfield any more than we would plant corn on a rocky alpine peak.

A writer with a lyrical voice should write in a genre that allows room for lyricism. A writer who enjoys crafting intricate plots should find a genre that supports intricate plots. It’s not that there are right or wrong genres; it’s a matter of finding a good fit. And once you know your genre, you’ll still need to find just the right story to write.

A few years ago, I was e-mailing back and forth with fellow author Sherrie Lord when I was trying to figure out what the Lord wanted me to write next. Sherrie said: “I think He wants you to write what you want to write.”

I love that idea, but there’s also the concept I shared with another friend who was contemplating starting a book. I told her about a fig tree that I grew in a pot in our house in Michigan. For several years, the thing hardly grew, but when we moved to Georgia and I planted it outside, it took off. It even developed an offshoot, so I divided it into two fig trees. (That happens with plots sometimes, too.) The trees were in the perfect location, and they flourished in the sun and the abundant rainfall.

I started getting excited. Finally, after five years in Georgia, I saw the first tiny green figs. My long-awaited harvest began to ripen, and I could hardly wait to taste sweet, delicious figs.

But even when they were fully ripe, they weren’t very sweet. They didn’t have much flavor. They were just . . . okay. No matter what we did to those trees, and no matter how strong and healthy they were, they could only produce bland, semi-sweet figs. All that time, I’d been nurturing the wrong variety of fig tree.

If only I had done my research.

It takes a long time to write a novel. I don’t want to nurture those pages for months or maybe years, and then realize the fruit can never be more than just okay.

Especially when a writer is contemplating a new project, it’s time to think, to pray, to be quiet before the Lord. I still think Sherrie’s right; we have freedom to write what we want to write. God doesn’t dictate our choices, but we need His wisdom to guide our freedom so our fruit will be sweet and full of flavor.

Meg Moseley is still a Californian at heart although she’s lived more than half her life in other states. She formerly wrote human-interest columns for a suburban section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and home schooled for over twenty years. Meg enjoys books, travel, gardening, her three grown children, and motorcycle rides with her husband Jon. They make their home in northern Georgia