As I write this, I'm sitting on the couch, preparing to record a huge stack of essays I just graded. I've been grading these essays for my poetry and literature courses for the past few days, and I think it's safe to say I passed the realm of normalcy quite a while ago. I even bought myself this to make the job a little more fun:
Can you say, "hashtag nerdy teacher?" I know. I know. But felt-tipped pens are so glorious!
So, here's the thing. Ten years ago, I thought I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I had NO concept of what it would look like to teach college courses, and no idea that I even could. I mean, I knew I wanted to teach, and that was about it. I was planning to major in elementary education until, at a college orientation, a very quirky old man with a penchant for Canterbury Tales factoids handed out some pamphlets about all the things you could do with an English major. He would later become one of my favorite professors and my current boss.
See, you can say to someone, "I'm a teacher," and they may think they know what you do. But what they don't see is the difference between a poetry instructor and a kindergarden teacher, a remedial reading instructor and a chemistry adjunct. Those differences may seem subtle, but they're not. They make all the difference in the world.
The same is true with writing.
You may wonder why genre matters. Well, think about the previous example. If you say to someone, "I'm a writer," what comes to their mind? A romance novelist? A literary critic? A poet? A cozy mystery writer? Sure, all of these people share a passion for the written word. But writing means something SO different to each of them.
The reality is, editors, agents, and readers expect certain things from certain genres. In a love story, readers want the characters to end up together. Unless you're Nicholas Sparks, killing one of your main characters right before the grand finale is going to result in a very unhappy reaction from your readers. Same is true with women's fiction or literary fiction and the expectation of carefully-crafted prose and true-to-life characters.
Trying different genres can be very fun. But like changing majors in college, eventually, you really need to pick one (unless your name is Pepper Basham, and you can amazingly write exceedingly well in every single genre known to mankind).
When you're first starting out and you're beginning to submit to agents and/or editors, it's important that you really know who you are as a writer. Again, don't just think of yourself as a "teacher," or "writer," but as having a particular kind of voice that's invaluable to a publishing house. No one wants to publish just another "writer." What they want is your unique voice as a writer.
So how can you find your genre?
Try dabbling in different styles and see what feels most natural. When I first started writing, I tried to write literary fiction. While I enjoy the depth and complexity of it, let's just say, I doubt anyone is going to be reading any of my literary fiction anytime soon! I then found the southern romance genre, and writing has been immensely easier and more fun ever since.
Also, consider what you like to read. Are you drawn to historical fiction? Contemporary romance? Romantic comedy? Take into account your interests as a reader, and you may find out something about yourself as a writer in the process.
What about you?! What genre do you write? Are you still trying to find your genre? What are you favorite genres to read?
Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.