Virtual Writers Sabbatical: Challenging a Genre Identity Crisis

by Richelle Lyn
published in Reading

I’m back for the third installment of my 2021 Virtual Writers Sabbatical (“VWS”) series and hope your own VWS is rolling along into the back half of 2021. If you missed the first two installments, Create Your Own Virtual Writers Sabbatical describes how to build an adventure focused on you and your writing craft, and How Creativity, Inc. Inspired Me shares how writing success is impacted by the support of other writers and coaches. Today’s focus will shift slightly to a discussion on my genre identity crisis.

Checking the Itinerary

Now that the long days of summer have faded, I’ve reined in my screen time again. But I logged some late nights this summer—all in the name of writing research—to focus on two of my five 2021 VWS destinations:

  • Rebooting my fiction reading
  • Binge watching TV shows and movies set in Ireland and the U.K. as research for my story

My motivations behind these were to read and watch more in my WIP’s genre, hopefully find new comparatives, and enhance my world building—no big surprise, right? But this exercise was more enlightening than I expected. I discovered I was in the middle of a genre identity crisis. 

What’s Your Genre?

It’s embarrassing to admit that I almost hit a one-year (gasp!) drought on fun reading, but it’s true. Halfway through 2020, my fiction reading mojo disappeared in a snap and my focus switched to writing craft and personal development books. By the beginning of 2021, I was worried; so the simple act of fiction reading made my VWS list. 

But was the solution that simple? Apparently not since I spent the first few months of 2021 with failed attempts at two YA reads. Both books are critically acclaimed, but they were the right books at the wrong time for me. 

As spring and then summer approached, I turned back to my kryptonite—streaming television. I assured myself there was no need to worry because I had permission to watch as many stories based in Ireland and the U.K. as I could squeeze in. 

I started with The Nevers, which had just premiered. The promos were filled with two English women running around Victorian London in petticoats at the turn of the twentieth century fighting to protect “gifted” orphans with unusual abilities from evil forces. I was intrigued and the story was based in the U.K., so it counted. 

The two leading ladies are actually both Irish actresses, so I figured double points for this pick. 

Plus, I love any story with a leading lady who is kicking butt. 

I didn’t think twice about its sci-fi epic label, and it quickly became my new guilty pleasure. I even broke my rule of waiting until all of the season’s episodes had dropped and watched The Nevers in real-time, which is HUGE for me.

Eventually, Northern Spy by Flynn Berry stopped my fiction reading backslide. It’s set in Ireland, so bonus points. Northern Spy is an adult suspense set in Belfast and follows two sisters and the impact of the current day IRA on their lives. 

I then jumped into Karen M. McManus’s The Cousins, which is a YA suspense book involving a rich and reclusive grandmother, a family secret that’s decades old, and grandchildren tasked with uncovering that secret. I was captivated by a great story and discovered a new comp for my WIP. 

Next up was Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, which is a YA mystery. 

You’ve probably noticed my genres are suspense/mystery, with a lean towards YA, and some women’s fiction thrown in. Or so I thought…

My Genre Identity Crisis

I recently allowed myself to get sucked into a Harry Potter marathon weekend, but it’s okay thanks to its U.K. location. When I first discovered Harry and his friends in 1997, I wasn’t a fantasy reader; and YA was not yet trendy. Adults, like me, who still enjoyed reading YA didn’t necessarily broadcast that when we gave our friends book recommendations. But all I cared about was escaping into a great story.

While re-watching Hermione’s transformation last weekend, I thought about some of the other shows I’d binged in recent years: Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Umbrella Academy, and The Mandalorian. I started each show either because of a personal experience or a trusted recommendation. My most significant commitment happened after visiting a GOT filming location in Malta in late 2017. I plowed through seven seasons of GOT in time for the season 8 premiere in early 2019.

Then it hit me. My dedication to suspense/mystery and women’s fiction had waivered. 

The majority of the shows I was watching were fantasy or sci-fi. How did I miss that? 

I’m clearly more focused on genre these days—there’s no escaping it when it’s the love language between writers, publishers, and readers. But regardless of why I started watching any of these shows, I’d raced through all of them because I LOVED THEM! 

Somehow, my genre taste took a wide turn when I wasn’t looking. I find it even more perplexing that there’s now a fork in the road between my go-to streaming and my reading/writing preferences, which haven’t changed… yet.

Is It Ever Too Late to Declare a Genre?

How old were you when you picked your favorite genre (or two)? Whether you realized it or not, it was probably very early on. 

I believe many of us subconsciously pick a genre by the path of least resistance. We love a book and read more by the same author, which are usually in the same genre. We ask our friends for recommendations, but we’ve already self-selected based on whether that friend’s last recommendation was worthwhile. We are drawn to the book cover art and titles, both of which are driven by the book’s genre.

What happens when you are well into adulthood and you realize you wish you’d paid more attention to fantasy and sci-fi growing up and now you have SO MUCH catching up to do? 

Questions started flooding in and the evidence started building:

  • Will my reading and writing tastes start skewing towards fantasy and sci-fi? Two of my favorite books are sci-fi novels penned by Margaret Atwood, and Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are two of my favorite YA series.
  • Am I even allowed to heart multiple genres without feeling like I’m cheating? So many books from my first genres have been patiently waiting in my TBR pile.
  • What if I want to read YA fantasy for pure pleasure and not because I’m analyzing every book I read for how it can help my craft? A possible upside to reading YA fantasy in the first place.
  • What does it mean to my future writing projects? Maybe I can’t, or don’t want to, write in another genre.
  • What if I don’t actually have a favorite genre? I often pick stories with female protagonists who push boundaries and conquer, but I clearly don’t care if they are digging for secrets, learning magic, or saving the world while they’re doing it.
  • Can you have a favorite protagonist instead?

What’s the Next Destination?

More questions than answers means I’m headed down another detour on my VWS adventure, but sometimes the detours are the best part of the trip. 

I’ve modified my TBR spreadsheet by genre groupings to make sure I’m spreading my reading love around. It also looks like I’m going to need a new bookshelf soon to house all of my new YA fantasy buys although I’m always open to new recommendations if you have any to share.

I’ve focused on four of my five VWS destinations in my series so far. My last pick was completing a book coaching class, and I’ve been steadily working through the Author Accelerator Book Coach Certification in Fiction. I will share some of my experiences with you in my next VWS installment.

As we head into fall, I hope to see you out on the VWS road. If you’ve already started your own sabbatical, drop me a note in the comments and tell me where you’re headed. If you haven’t joined us yet, it’s never too late to start. You still have more than 90 days left in 2021, which is plenty of time to squeeze in a long weekend adventure to crush one of the writing goals you declared back in January and get your momentum rolling for your 2022 VWS destination picks.

Have you ever had a genre identity crisis? How is your VWS going? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

genre identity crisis

Richelle Lyn is a compensation & benefits attorney and HR executive, who is now chasing a career as a writer. Her favorite reads involve leading ladies who push boundaries and conquer while preferably digging for secrets, learning magic, and/or saving the World. She is writing her first YA suspense novel. She loves her tea hot and her coffee iced. She calls South Florida home, but her favorite place to be is on a trip. You can check her out on Twitter and Instagram.

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