This has been a pretty hot topic in my life recently and I’ve had a lot of people giving me advice on what to do in certain situations regarding writing over the last few months. After a while I realised that, whenever I got two opposing sets of recommendations for what to do and how to do it, it always came down to whether I approached writing as my calling or my career. I’ll start by defining what the two are.
Calling, according to my understanding of it, is what you feel you are meant to do with your life. In some ways, your reason for being on the earth. It’s the things you can do from your unique blend of skills and life experiences to make the world a better place. I believe my calling is directly related to being put on earth by God for something He’s decided he wants me to do. There are some things that are generic in that. The bible lists a bunch of things every follower of Jesus is meant to do, like ‘Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.’ But in essence, I also believe I’m meant to tell stories in one form or another for the foreseeable future.
Career is more of a financial thing. It’s the success and financial reward an occupation brings. Having a good career is when we reach the top of that paricular occupational ladder and earn a larger amount. It’s very much about the stability it brings to life and how other people measure us against each other. When you have a career you know what you’re doing between 9am and 5pm on week days (mostly anyway) and you know what to put on that occupation slot of all those official forms.
Personally I couldn’t care less about my career. I really mean that. If I make money, great, if not, well I still intend to keep writing and telling stories. Some of it will be easier to do if I earn money but that’s only because it takes money to make some of the stories and do some of the ideas in my head. That doesn’t mean I won’t be sensible and try and make money but it does mean when it comes to a decision where one option is about following my calling and the other about following my career, I will pick calling.
A great example of this is writing in more than one genre. You’ve probably noticed I do this. I’ve got two novels in historical adventure, a novel in sci-fi, which is the start of a series, and several fantasy shorts with a series in that genre on the way as well. That’s three genres. This is considered a bad move in terms of a career as a novelist/author.
Readers like to know what they are getting. The quickest way to build a loyal fan base and sell lots of books is to write in one genre and deliver one style of book again and again. Everyone who likes my work can then buy everything without having to worry that they might not like it, and I can ensure every new book sells better than the last (as long as I don’t royally screw something up).
Writing in more than one genre leaves fans unsure about each purchase and even a little confused sometimes. They need to check what genre it is before they buy and while they love one of my books they may only like elements of others. I know this happens because I had a conversation, only last Sunday with a fan. He loves fantasy and tried my sci-fi book because he liked the fantasy stuff. He didn’t like it as much and he won’t even touch my historical adventure novels. To him I’ve wasted my time writing those (he didn’t actually come out and say that last bit and I’m not sure he’d even go so far as to think it, but it’s essentially true).
But the problem is, a lot of my story ideas are inspired by some kind of revelation and often they only fit in the genres and scenarios they came to me in. If I choose to write in only one genre, I wouldn’t be writing two-thirds of the ideas that come about as a result of storytelling being my calling.
When I pick a new idea, the first a formost decision is what ‘feels’ like it needs to be written next. Which one is it the right time for, regardless of how it fits with what I’ve already got (sometimes I get a nudge one way or another and sometimes I don’t but I always check before deciding with any other method). For now, both my sci-fi and my fantasy feel like they need to be written. There’s lots of great ‘moments’ in those characters lives that keep bugging me to be told. So I imagine that for the next little while I’ll be alternating between those two series. But that doesn’t mean I won’t ever write another historical adventure. I’ve got some more ideas for them, just right now they aren’t bugging me to write them.
So I’m writing in more than one genre and I’ll continue to do so despite the fact that this decision is proving detrimental to my career, at least in the short term, because for me, telling stories is about so much more than how many I can sell and how much money I can make. It’s about telling the right story at the right time so it’s relevant to my readers, no matter how few.