A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
No quote has ever spoken to me quite like this one.
First, I adore Heinlein. No. That’s really the wrong verb. Adulate? Perhaps love will simply do. Because his works have had such an influence on me, not as a writer, but as a human being.
Second, I can’t do all of those things, but I can do a lot of them. The rest come out in my fiction.
But mostly I love this quote because it speaks to the idea that people should not be limited to one endeavor in life. This is something we teach to our children, but somewhere along the way, we forget. We grow up and are expected to settle into one thing – a career – and stick with it. As you may have noticed from my profile, I’ve had many “careers,” and sticking to one has not been my strong point.
In this world of specialization, I can’t think of a more generalized occupation than being a writer. You need to know the velocity at which a bullet will disintegrate to cause maximum damage, how to conjugate Latin, and a hundred different ways to describe a smile (and that’s just in the last month). And within writing, I think that children’s fiction has the widest latitude of all. In adult genres, there is an expectation that you will stay “in genre” and build an audience. This may be changing somewhat, but if you break into traditional publishing as a mystery writer, or a romance writer, or a science fiction writer, you’re pretty much expected to stay there.
But children’s interests are varied and haven’t locked into a specific genre (yet) – and thus writing for children allows you a wide range of genres to pick from. Only in the middle grade (or young adult) sections of the bookstore will you find science fiction next to comedy, romance next to horror. There’s a freedom in kidlit that I love.
Now, there is some logic to sticking with a genre, or type-of-book, when you first break into traditional publishing, in order to “build an audience.” But I plan to write children’s books for many years to come, and I have many, many ideas that will fill those books. I’m glad that I have room within kidlit to do so.
What do you think about staying with one genre for writing?
NOTE: Unlike Heinlein, I don’t agree that specialization is only for insects. Anyone with a Ph.D. (mine’s in engineering) understands that concentrated, applied effort in any area is required to advance it. But there is also room, indeed requirement, for generalists as well.
p.s. Don’t forget to enter my Blogoversary Giveaway! ENDS tomorrow a.m. in which I will announce the winner!