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Switching Categories as a Writer

Hello, friends! Long time, no write! If you happened to follow my “Writing Sports and Action Scenes” series in 2021, I deeply apologize for leaving things on a cliff-hanger of sorts. Subscribers of my newsletter know all about this, but the truth is that the summer of 2021 hit me very hard with some professional disappointments, and I ended up needing to log offline for months to work on my own mental health and refill the well.

The third technique that I was going to write about in that series was keeping the golden rule of narrative in mind and to not get too in-the-weeds with specifics the particular sport or action at play. Even my own eyes glaze over if I see too much sport terminology and phrases crammed into high action pages. What I’m really interested as the reader is being inside the protagonist’s head, and feeling the adrenaline and energy of the setting. Ultimately, that is the goal for any written sports scene, I think.

This advice is, coincidentally, not far from the topic of today’s post. What I want to talk about today is when you switch categories or genres as a writer, and how to start over without really starting over.

I don’t like to post a blog on any topic I’m not super familiar with, and back in 2021 I was just stepping into trying out new categories. I felt like The Derby Daredevils were a lovely collective whole in themselves, and I wasn’t quite sure where to step next in my career, especially as so many prospects had halted thanks to the onset of the pandemic. This indecision led to creating a portfolio my agent could use to pass around to editors and companies working on IP—or intellectual property—projects, where they would have a book idea and need to find the perfect writer to bring that idea to fruition. As I was creating this portfolio and starting to submit various auditions, I began stepping into completely different worlds. I wrote a snippet of a graphic novel script for a historical nonfiction middle grade. I wrote a snippet of historical fiction middle grade. I wrote a commercial YA snippet. I wrote a fantasy YA snippet. I wrote a thriller YA snippet. I was all over the place!

And yet, oddly, things didn’t really feel out of place at all. My agent, who remains rigorous and thorough in her feedback with just about everything I do, weirdly loved every single audition from me. We started calling 2021 and 2022 my Chameleon Era. It seemed like all she had to do was name a new category and genre and I’d pull out yet another new hat from my writer closet and dive in.

Except, the truth is, I don’t actually have that many hats in my writer closet. In fact, I really only had one hat—but it was the exact hat I needed to step into new worlds with abandon. The hat I finally dusted off and plunked back on my head was… my reader hat.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. WHY WAS YOUR READER HAT DUSTY?! I’m throwing my hands up in defense right now, because here’s the thing about debuting: Sometimes, you get a little obsessed with all the things you think you’re meant to get obsessed with as a writer marketing themselves. Sometimes, you promote yourself so much that your skin feels like a costume you’ve been wearing too long. Sometimes, you read other authors’ books, but the whole time you’re just trying to find ways to connect it with your work so you can make a great double promotion post. It’s awful. It’s tiring. And not everyone does it (at all!!) but in 2020 I was super, super guilty of this. I forgot how to be a critical reader. I forgot to pick up books because they looked truly interesting. I sort of jammed debuting into every aspect of my personality, and felt rubbed raw from it.

In 2021, I got a chance to scrub all that pretense off. I quietly logged off all social media and started to make huge “holds” lists on my library account. I read voraciously and stopped documenting each read in my pretty notebook. I wanted every book-related decision I made to be wholly mine, to come from nothing but what I felt like doing or reading. The result of this course shift is that I ended up reading pretty widely. I read whatever book sounded intriguing. I read some middle grade, of course. But I also read adult books. And historical fiction. And true crime. And a whole heck of a lot of YA.

When the time came to write a sample in a different category, I was able to let go of the author I thought I needed to be or the brand I thought I needed to cultivate. I basically let go of being an author all together. My first thought at any given prompt was, ‘What would I want to read about?’ and then I just wrote out the answer. I wrote to make myself laugh. I wrote to give myself shivers. I wrote to jump into any pretend world I wanted.

I loved wearing my reader hat so much that even after my portfolio was finished, after I had submitted a slew of auditions in 2021, I wasn’t ready to stop following a new path. I sat down and wrote the story I thought I would never be mature enough to write. I wrote about my personal queer journey, about dating the football captain and wanting with every fiber of my being for that to be enough. I wrote about sexy girls with wicked smiles I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about. I wrote about late nights and arguments over being safe versus being truly happy. I wrote about almost kisses, and thank-god-we’re-doing-this kisses, and kisses that made my brain fall out of my head and float far, far away. I wrote about scenes I swore I would never tell anyone. I wrote the book I wanted, desperately, to read.

And I am never, never taking off my reading hat again.


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