So the question came up the other day when I suggested a writing acquaintance take a fiction writing workshop. She looked at me, obvious puzzlement in her eyes. “Why would I do that?” she asked. “I’m trying to write a memoir.”
My answer was: “Why are you assuming the skills and techniques of fiction writing would be of no value in the writing of her memoir?”
“Because they’re different.”
Sure, they’re different. But in many ways the skills involved are transcendental. Just because you concentrate your efforts in one particular genre or discipline does not mean there is nothing useful in the others.
I learned this firsthand while I was still in college. One day, as I was trying to select classes for the next term, my roommate (who was the primary beta reader for all my writing efforts) suggested I take a poetry writing class. “Why?” I asked, just as puzzled, I’m sure, as my later acquaintance at the suggestion. “I write fiction, not poetry.”
“Because,” he calmly told me. “It will help with your fiction.”
I did enroll in a poetry writing class and he was right. Not only did I enjoy the class and turn out to be fairly good at poetry, but it did help my fiction writing. How? Because it taught me how to think and write in concise and concrete, powerful images. And that is always something that helps one’s writing, whatever it is.
The lesson here is that, as a writer, one never knows where a skill, an insight, or inspiration might come from, so we need to open ourselves to everything. We particularly need to be willing to learn from all types of writing, because we never know when we might need it. In Deception Island, the suspense novel I’m revising now, I have scenes that required me to write in the style of a newspaper journalist and another in the legalese of a contract. I did not know that going in. It was just necessary for the story. Fortunately, I believe I was familiar enough with both styles to pull it off.
In short, writing is writing. The only differences are with the audience and the purpose. Writing is writing. Storytelling is storytelling. Whether it’s romance fiction, hard journalism, poetry, screenwriting, or memoir, every genre and every discipline, when broken down to its basics, is about telling a story. And every one of them has something to teach us.