January 25, 2019

Adventures in Genre Exploration

By Leigh Ann Thomas

With glazed eyes, I surfed the net and attempted to summon a spark of writing creativity. Without a hint of mercy or compassion, two deadlines hovered and teased my burned-out brain.

I felt I’d written on the same subject in the same format ad nauseum, and a sigh rose from the depths of my weary writer’s soul. What to do, what to do.

That’s when my vision focused on a promotion for a screenplay competition that would kick off in a matter of days. Genre, subject, and setting would be assigned, and entrants would have time and page limits. Advancing through three rounds could lead to heart-stopping cash prizes. Hmm. A screenplay?

Blasted logic popped me on the back of the head. I didn’t have the time. I’d never written a screenplay. The mere thought of being disloyal to my chosen category was ill-advised and irresponsible.

Early in my writing life, I read an article that discouraged a writer from stepping outside their genre. The rationale? If you opened a retail store and sold hammers and nails, why would you stock a shelf of, say, turtleneck sweaters? Shoppers would never enter a building-supply store looking for winter apparel.

As a young writer, I grappled with the concept. Hmm. Makes sense. But what if I get weary of selling hammers and nails?

As my heart skipped a beat and my competitive spirit kicked into high gear, I knew what I had to do. I held my breath and jumped into the contest fray. After I received my assignment, I binge-watched episodes of the NYC police drama, Blue Bloods, studying scenes and transitions. I grabbed a notebook and dissected each storyline, fascinated by how individual dramatic threads wove around a central theme.

My smoldering artistic fire burst into flame and for weeks, I was a ball of nervous creative energy. My mind refused to shut down—especially at night—as I mentally rehearsed potential story plots. I finished my first entry, created an official title page, and printed a copy to hold in my hands.

To be honest, this giddy girl danced a little. I just wrote a screenplay.

Months later, I danced a little more when I saw my name on the advanced-to-the-next-round list. Out of over 1300 entries, I had made it to the top 240! This led to new assignments, tighter deadlines, and additional sleepless nights.

At the risk of sounding anticlimactic, I eventually crashed and burned before the final round. But what a rush. By stepping outside of my writing normal, I gained unique perspective and stretched my creative muscles. A spark ignited and I wanted to explore. I wanted to be courageous.

I wanted my work to exude excitement, joy, and purpose.

With renewed enthusiasm, I longed to pick up my old hammer and nails and to build something fresh and beautiful.

How has genre exploration rejuvenated your writing life?
Leigh Ann Thomas is a wife, mother, grammy, writer, and genre explorer. She has penned four books, including Ribbons,Lace, and Moments of Grace—Inspiration for the Mother of the Bride (SonRise Devotionals) and Smack-Dab in the Midlife Zone—Inspiration for Women in the Middle (Elk Lake Publishing Inc., 2019 release). She is a staff writer for the and parenting sites and has contributed to 12 books and compilations, including When Calls the Heart to Love: 30 Heartwarming Devotions from Hope Valley by Michelle Cox and Brian Bird. For pure fun, she enjoys writing church drama and short stories and has been featured three times in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Collections. You can find Leigh Ann on her front porch daydreaming story plots or blogging at Connect on Twitter at @LThomasWrites.

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