Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cross Pollination

As you make your goals for the coming year, it’s easy to get caught up in external goals: finish that manuscript, write more every day, query your list of dream agents. But sometimes the most rewarding goals are more internally directed. One question I often ask myself is how am I going to stretch myself creatively this year?

This can also have the side benefit of feeding you creatively as well, or filling the well, as Julia Cameron calls it. However, pushing ourselves creatively can be tough, it’s hard to know which direction to push or, as a friend of mine says, it’s hard to know what you don’t know yet.

A great solution to this is cross-pollination. I first heard about this concept (although I don’t think she used this exact term) from Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin’s Press at a talk she was giving to the Orange County Romance Writer’s of America. I was there on my own cross-pollinating jaunt, so I was very happy to hear her endorse the practice.

Cross-pollinating merely consists of expanding your professional and creative horizons beyond your current borders. If you write alone or with only your critique group, consider joining a professional writing organization. Obviously, for children’s writers I would recommend SCBWI. If you already belong to SCBWI, I highly recommend you consider joining an additional writing organization. Their local chapter meetings, newsletters, and national conferences can be hot beds of creative growth. I learned tons from my membership and involvement in the Romance Writer’s of America. (Don’t snigger—or I’ll sic Ms. Viola after you!) The way RWA approaches craft and the industry is very different from how SCBWI does, and it was a lovely balance to what I’d learned already. If you write middle grade or YA mysteries, consider the Mystery Writers of America. Or if you write fantasy for kids, consider Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. There are lots of other great organizations, easily found on the web.

If joining an organization doesn’t appeal to you, then consider branching out in the conferences you attend. Instead of the one you always go to, maybe try one of the national conferences associated with one of the major writers organization listed below, or one of the multi-genred, general writers conferences like the Maui Writer’s Conference, the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference, or the Surrey Writer’s Conference. I’m sure there are others out there, but these are the ones I know off the top of my head.

I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s surprising how seeing the craft of writing through a new pair of eyes or from a fresh angle can open up avenues of creativity you’d never tap otherwise.


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

This is why I take poetry classes though I don't consider myself a poet, and why I go to a mix of general and children's-writer conferences. I never want to get stale or predictable. Elements borrowed from a different genre can help a book stand out in its own category.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to check out Mystery Writers and Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America - sounds interesting.

Thanks for the info, Robin!

Kimberly Lynn

Robin L said...

Liquidambar, poetry is a great example! Thank you for mentioning that. And you are so right about borrowed elements from a different genre helping a book stand out in its own category. What a perfect way to state that.

Kimberly Lynn, I keep meaning to get to a SFWA con and just haven't done it yet, but it's definitely on my list of things to do to step outside my comfort zone. I hear they are markedly different from standard writers' conferences in that they are very fan oriented as well. Should be interesting...

Mary Hershey said...

Thanks, Robin! Marvelous entry--
um, do you think that going to the annual Xena Convention counts as cross-pollination??