Batching Your Tasks

As mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve recently started my doctorate. I’m presently enrolled fulltime, but the completing of this research investigation is hardly the only project on my plate. (Who the heck has ONE project on their plate anyway?)

Over the years, I developed a time blocking schedule where I worked towards the completion of tasks/goals by spending a little bit of time every day working on each task or goal. This meant that I shifted between 3-5 different projects every day and I would spend 1-3 hours on each task. Although I was constantly shifting gears, this system worked because I was strategic in how I organised the completing of these tasks.

For instances, I’m a morning person so my mornings were always spent working on high priority projects or projects that required a greater amount of cognitive or creative clarity such as novel writing, reading and analysing journal articles, or drafting/revising assignments. My energy is much lower in the afternoons, so I usually spent this time working on lighter tasks such as marketing, administration or research.

In between these tasks, I would frequently check my emails, ebook sales (published under a pen name), tend to domestic tasks (laundry/baking/candlestick making) or run personal errands.

For years, this flittering between tasks worked for me. I enjoyed the variety that came with each day and the satisfaction of daily, steady progress. This system suited me and my temperament and I had no problems winding down and switching off at the end of the day.

Then something changed. With no warning at all, the system that I had used to organise my life stopped working. Shifting between 3-5 tasks every day no longer felt invigorating or satisfying. Instead, I felt scatterbrained and overwhelmed. What made matters worse was that I could no longer switch off. I was waking up at 12am to the sound of my inner taskmaster reading out my to-do list. I had worked hard to train my brain to focus intensely on one task for a short period of time before switching to another task and now my brain didn’t know how to switch off.

The system that worked seamlessly for years was defunct. I needed to find a new system!

I first heard of ‘batching’ a couple of years ago, but I never gave it much thought. After all, I already had a system.

If you haven’t heard of this time managing technique, here’s the low down:
Batching is when you organise your day, week or month to the completing of one task or the completing of similar tasks. For example, my blog posts are written in real time. I spend a few hours every Thursday writing and revising a blog that is then posted on Friday. Rather than writing one blog every week, I could batch this task by dedicating one whole day to writing and editing enough blogs for a whole month.

This intense focus allows you to stay in the one headspace for an entire day/week/month rather than flittering between multiple tasks that require different levels of skill or concentration.

When it comes to batching, you choose the time frame and the task. You may want to dedicate a whole month to the completing of a major project, or you may dedicate a whole day to writing. Some tasks don’t require a whole day but you still want to stay in a similar headframe. If that’s the case, you could group similar tasks together such as domestic chores: houseworks/errands/bills or marketing: content creation/social media posts/ads/copywriting.

At the top of this post I mentioned how I used to constantly check my emails. While ‘batching’ a task like emails isn’t feasible for me, I have decided to dedicate one hour every day to this task. I’m not going to lie, it takes a lot of will power to do this. Checking my emailing became something I did whenever I needed a mini-break from whatever task I was working on. Email is disguised procrastination. It seems like you’re being ‘productive’, but usually you’re just wasting time. Don’t get me wrong, mini-breaks are good! Just don’t spend your mini-break in front of a screen checking email or social media. If you’re taking a mini-break, actually have a break. Stand up, move around or stare out the window.

How about you? Do you use the batching method or a different technique to get your tasks done?

 

 

 

The Downside to Being a Precrastinator

We’re all familiar with the term procrastination – and some of us may have even experienced it! – but have you heard of the term precrastination? When I first heard this term, I thought it was a cheeky way to describe ‘doers,’ but the more I read about it, the more I realised how perfectly this term describes the way that I manage my to-do list.

Basically, a precrastinator is someone who prefers to complete a task as soon as possible. They like to get things done well in advance. This approach is particularly relevant to short term tasks such as email, errands and minor requests*.

Many of us have long term goals that may include writing a novel, completing a degree, or increasing our fitness. Intellectually, we understand that these goals take a lot of time and a lot of energy to achieve.

If we are chugging along on one of our long term goals and a short term tasks suddenly pops up on our to-do list, a precrastinator will rush to complete that task in order to get on with their ‘real work’. Many of these tasks are lopped onto our already full plates through the evil channels of email, social media and our mobile phones. Ah, the joys of being constantly contactable…

Maybe you’re in the middle of a writing session when you receive an email from a colleague requesting you to edit a journal article, or a friend texts asking for your lasagne recipe, or you duck into the kitchen for a cup of tea and the kettle croaks it.

Working on your masterpiece has now become impossible because all you can think about is that your colleague needs that article to be edited, your friend needs that recipe and someone has to buy a new kettle. How can you possibly write another chapter with these pesky demands nipping at your heels?

There is a couple of things at play here. Firstly, there is a belief that these short term tasks are urgent. We spin ourselves into a frenzy as we tend to these tasks in an attempt to get them off our to-do list as quickly as possible. Of course, we should also take a moment to acknowledge the dopamine hit that happens when we complete these short term tasks. Ah, instant gratification. Progress has been made! Or has it?

This habit can have two consequences. If you allow yourself to be constantly distracted and interrupted by short term tasks, this will drag out the completion of your long term goals. Alternatively, if you continue to focus solely on short term tasks, then you may never reach your long term goal. In which case, your precrastinating has turned into procrastinating.

If you indulge in this form of procrastinating too much, you may develop a habit of rushing through ALL the tasks on your to-do list. Instead of taking the time to complete a task properly, you may find yourself in a vicious cyclic pattern as you hurry to complete one task then another and another. Who wants to live their life as though it were one big to-do list?

Obviously, some tasks can be completed quickly, but if you rush to complete the edits your colleague request, if you shot off an email to your friend, or if you hurry out the door to buy a new kettle – you may find yourself in a sea of regret!

What if you miss a bunch of typos? What if you email your friend a confidential file instead of a recipe? What if you buy a full-price kettle instead of one on sale because you were too busy to look?

When you rush through a task you may fail to give the time, attention or consideration that it truly needs. The result? Your colleague doesn’t ask you to edit another paper. Your friend reads that confidential material. You regret your quick purchase.

Precrastinating isn’t necessarily a problem. There is something good about clearing the decks so that you can give your full attention to your long term goals, but you need to be honest with yourself, are you simply tending to minor tasks or are you procrastinating under the guise of being efficient? You need to ask yourself questions like:

  • is my procrastinating leading to mediocre work?
  • Is it harming my reputation?
  • Is it causing me to rush through long term goals instead of giving them the time and energy they actually need?

It’s not very often that I EVER defend procrastinating, but there can be benefits to completing tasks at the last minute or at least delaying your starting of them. If you have a month to prepare a paper and you rush to write, revise and submit it in a week, you’ve just lost three weeks of ‘marinating’ time. Procrastinating isn’t (always) a dressed-up form of laziness or resistance, SOMETIMES, it is a way to allow deeper reflections, thoughts, insights and connections to occur. A person who does not write a paper until a few days before the deadline may wind up writing a better paper because they’ve allowed themselves to really think through their argument and to find some stellar sources.

There’s nothing wrong with being either a precrastinator or a procrastinator. The only times these behaviours do becoming troublesome is when they start interfering with your long terms goals.

*Of course, precrastinating also extend to medium sized tasks like re-planting a garden bed, servicing your car or building a website.

Keeping a Creative Journal

Last year, I decided to publish three YA novels under a pseudonym. Prior to publishing, I asked a skilled friend of mine to proofread each manuscript. After I had read through their comments and mark-ups, I complimented them on their editing skills. This is when my critique partner suggested that I start keeping a creative writing journal.

I love reflecting on the creative process (hence this blog!) and I’m already an active journal writer (it frightens me how quickly we forget things!), so I was instantly intrigued and wanted to know more. ‘Why do you say that?’ I asked.

My critique partner then informed me that the volume of suggested corrections varied widely throughout the manuscript. Apparently, they would read through several pages without noting a single error only to then find three error on one page. I confessed that I too noted this pattern during my revisions and had chalked the errors up to ‘bad writing days.’

A creative writing journal is a good place to record your daily word count and hours spent writing, but more importantly, it is a place where you can reflect on your creative process. Journal entries are a way to document how you feel about the day’s writing session. Did the words come easily? Did the story go in a direction you hadn’t expected? How do you feel about what you have written?

I’m a daily writer. I find it easy to slowly chip away at a project day-after-day rather than binge write for 8-10 hours every now and then. I enjoy the sense of daily progress and the satisfaction of crossing things off my to-do list. So, I write every day – whether I feel like it or not. (*Insert obvious disclaimer. Life happens. Some days I don’t write because events outside of my control prevent me from doing so).

Here’s the thing though, I can’t help but believe that the pages clustered with typos and errors were written, revised or edited on days when I didn’t want to write. Days when I was tired, unmotivated, distracted or pressed for time. Days where I chose to white knuckle through my writing session rather than take the day off.

Of course, those typos and errors could have just as easily been made on days when I was struck with inspiration. Days when the words came quicker than my fingers could type them. Days when I hurried to get the story down before it had a chance to escape me.

The problem is, I have no idea whether those typos ridden pages were written on ‘bad’ days or ‘good’ days. Keeping a creative journal would allow me to identify the correlations between the quality of the writing and my mood, mental clarity and energy. If a pattern was pinpointed, then I would know which sections of the manuscript would require further – or more careful – editing/revisions prior to sharing them with others.

Using beta readers, critique partners and professional editors will certainly assist in the correcting of errors, but personally, I would like my manuscript to be as clean as possible before I share it with others. Typos are distracting. If I’ve asked my beta readers or critique partners to read my manuscript and to provide thoughtful feedback, I’d hate for them to spend that time marking up typos rather than reflecting on the quality of the manuscript.

Even if a particular pattern is not identified, a creative journal could provide further insight into my own creative process. This, in itself, is reason enough for me. Obviously, this is a new practice for me, and if this tool proves useful, I’ll certainly write a follow-up blog. But for now, I’d love to hear from you! Do you keep a creative writing journal? If so, what do you record? How has maintaining a creative journal assisted your process?

Interview with Kate Goldsworthy

A few years ago, I had the incredible good fortune to be mentored by Kate Goldsworthy as part of my Master’s degree. Kate is a freelance editor who has worked with a slew of talented literary authors including Bri Lee (Eggshell Skull), Ariella Van Luyn (Treading Air) and Angela Meyer (A Superior Spectre). Kate has a razor-sharp eye. Her ability to pick up minute details while analysing a story’s overall structure is a gift. My work benefited tremendously from Kate’s generous guidance, and I am so pleased to share this interview with you. Enjoy and happy writing.

  1. Can you give us a brief overview of your career as an editor including education and your transition into freelancing? Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? 

I always loved writing but was originally too cautious to pursue a career in publishing. As an undergrad I majored in both psychology and English literature, and it took me a long time to realise that the former wasn’t leading me anywhere. I interned at magazines and did the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing course, which I highly recommend. Through a classmate, Jo Case, I got my first paid editorial gig as the Readings Monthly assistant. I also started getting freelance proofreads through Bec Starford, who’d managed one of my internships, and then I got more of this work through an Allen & Unwin editor who spoke at RMIT.

Jo recommended me to Black Inc., where I soon started working as a part-time editorial assistant while I continued to do some freelance proofreading. Then one of the senior eds at Black Inc. went on mat leave, and suddenly I was promoted to editor! All my dreams had come true! Except I was made redundant about two years later and had to fend for myself. That was a tough time. Fortunately I had good industry contacts, and within a year I was earning more as a freelancer than I had in-house, thanks mainly to a lovely and supportive publisher at A&U, Louise Thurtell.

I went back in-house for two years at Affirm Press because they offered me a great opportunity not just to edit but also to commission and acquire books. Although I really loved working at Affirm and was sad to leave in late 2016, I realised that I prefer freelancing. I was lucky to be in a position where I could easily transition from in-house to freelance work without losing income. I’m someone who needs to set my own schedule, and I enjoy working on my own, in my own space. I sometimes miss having colleagues, but I regularly catch up with my clients and authors.

Last year my partner and I bought a property in a semi-rural area, and I’ve decided that I’m never going back in-house. Well, unless someone lets me work from home and pays me a massive salary with benefits … um, anyone? 

  1. Can you share any favourite memories or discuss any particularly rewarding projects?

One of my first big projects at Black Inc. was Lily Chan’s Toyo, a beautiful memoir about her Japanese grandmother. I got along really well with Lily, and the book ended up winning the 2013 Dobbie Award. Lily and I have become such good friends that I can’t imagine my life without her and her family. She’s not the only author I’ve befriended – my work has brought lots of lovely people into my life. Not every author becomes a friend, but I always want to be on friendly terms with them, and I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for them in general. Working with dedicated authors is always rewarding.

  1. What are some of the common mistakes you see writers make, particularly in regards to debut novels?

This is a public service announcement: If we’re talking about mistakes in first-time authors’ manuscripts, then timelines! Please, for the love of all that is holy, draw up a detailed timeline whenever you redraft your novel or memoir. Don’t just take months and years into account, but also seasons, holidays and mealtimes.

Outside of the manuscript: In my experience first-time authors often don’t do a lot of research into the industry before submitting their work. You don’t have to do this to produce a brilliant manuscript that becomes an international bestseller, but it might help. Why not take a few hours to learn about the industry, at least the Australian part of it, before you jump in? It’s important to know that you should try agents before publishers, for example; it’s also good to know about advances, agent fees, royalties and rights sales.

  1. What trends, if any, do you see emerging right now?

I’m really hoping we’ll see more speculative fiction published in Australia – commercial or literary, I don’t care, just more. This is for selfish reasons because I want to work on it (please send it to me), but also I think there’s more of a market for it than many mainstream publishers and booksellers realise, particularly among millennial readers. I was pleased to see this article (sorry, it’s behind a paywall): https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2019/02/20/123334/a-new-hope-for-un-real-fiction-rose-michael-on-speculative-fiction.

  1. You too are a writer; do you mind sharing your writing routine with us?

Unfortunately I don’t have one at the moment! I have a lot of paid editing work on my plate, and I’m the breadwinner in my household, so I need to focus on that. I’ve written a young adult novel, but I’ve hardly started on the road to getting it published.

The last thing I wrote (mid-last year) was a short memoir piece for a collection of essays, Split, which will be published by Ventura in a couple of months and was edited by Lee Kofman.

  1. Are there any resources or tools that have supported your creative practice?

The RMIT course was an amazing experience. I wouldn’t have written my novel without it, and I’m convinced that this writing process also made me a better editor. It also helped me feel empathy for writers; many editors don’t know what it’s like on the other side. But of course not everyone can afford to do a course, or to do internships, and I’ve come to realise that I was extremely privileged.

Something that also helped me a lot as a teen and young adult was writing fanfiction, a free resource that anyone with an internet connection can access. You just have to be interested in someone else’s characters and be willing to play around in their universe, and you instantly have an audience, editors and fellow writers to chat with. With no money, no pressure and a lot of supportive women and LGBT+ people involved, most of the time it’s a lovely place to write, share your work and hang out. If you’re interested, a good place to start is the Archive of Our Own: https://archiveofourown.org.

~*~

You can find Kate on Twitter: @KMGoldsworthy 

The Professional Edit

Note: If you prefer video content, you can access the vlog version here.

Writing is not a solitary task but a collaborative effort. The first draft (and several after) may be crafted with the door to your office firmly closed, but eventually, you will need to let others in. The feedback, critiques and advice from other writers, readers and professionals can help us to see the flaws in our work, such as excessive use of filter words, repetitive phrases, redundant sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies, and incomplete character/story arcs.  Novels contain multiple moving parts, so it’s easy for a writer to make a mistake. This is why editors exist: to help writers turn good stories into great stories.

If you are fortunate enough to get a deal with a traditional publishing house, then your manuscript will go through multiple rounds of editing. If you are interested in self-publishing, then I urge you to have your manuscript edited. Readers are savvy. They don’t want to pay $2.99 for a novel that is actually a first draft. Readers want good stories and if you are a self-published author, it’s your responsibility to make sure you are putting forward the best, most professional content that you can. That means you need to get your work to an editor.

However, before you go sending your manuscript off to the first person you find online, it’s important that you understand the different types of editing available. And by the way, if you are serious about being a writer then you should hire a professional editor for the following three processes: structural/developmental edit, copyedit and proofread. You may have to hire different editors for all three stages, or you may find an editor who offers all three.

A word of advice, if you hire an editor to do the structural/developmental edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor to do the final proofread. Why? If an editor has performed both the structural and copy edit on your manuscript, they may miss errors/typos during the proofreading stage because they have become overly familiar with the work.

Structural/Developmental Editing

Structural editing focuses intensely on the novels core drive: character and plot. Typically, a structural editor will read your entire manuscript while taking careful note of how each element of the story is working. They will analyse your work for consistency, believability and effectiveness with a particular focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

Some structural editors may also provide feedback regarding the manuscripts potential target audience and its overall marketability.

Structural editors will provide a report that analyses the quality of your manuscript. This may take the form of a letter that discusses the manuscript as a whole, or they may provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Either way, this report should identify:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Lack of tension
  • Pacing issues
  • Irrelevant characters, scenes or plot development
  • Believability of characters
  • Whether the work is engaging
  • Areas of confusion, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy.

Structural edits do not focus on the manuscript on a line level (sentence-by-sentence). Instead, it is looking at the bigger picture and how the novel hangs together. For this reason, the structural edit should be the first round of editing your manuscript goes through.

Copyediting

Copyediting, or what some call line level editing, focuses on the manuscript on a sentence-by-sentence level. Here, editors are looking for problems regarding:

  • Grammar
  • Style
  • Repetition
  • Word usage
  • Jargon
  • Filter words
  • Dialogue
  • Unclear character motivations.

The copyediting phase should not occur until after the structural edit has been completed. There is no point in fixing an entire scene, sentence-by-sentence, only to have that scene deleted because it isn’t furthering the plot. These types of edits typically occur as in-document critiques using track changes. 

Proofreading

Once all the large structural issues with your manuscript have been fixed and you’ve carefully examined every sentence for clarity and quality, you can then move on to the final round of editing: the proofread. Like I said earlier, if you used the same editor for the structural edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor (someone unfamiliar with your work) to do the proofread. It never hurts to have a fresh set of eyes—especially when it comes to editing! Proofreading is the lightest form of editing as it focuses on minor errors such as:

  • Grammar and style (e.g., tense, measuring units, consistency with numerals and words such as “5” or “five”)
  • Capitalisation and punctuation (e.g., correct usage of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, dashes and apostrophes)
  • Spelling and word usage (e.g., to/too, affect/effect).

You may be tempted to skip the proofreading stage, but please don’t. You’ve already put so much work into polishing and editing your manuscript, the last thing you want is to receive an email from a reader highlighting all the typos and errors that were missed during the copyediting phase.

Critiques

Critiques are not a part of the editing process, but they can be tremendously useful. You can pay a professional to critique your manuscript (I offer such services), or you can approach other readers or writers who may be willing to critique your work for free. Critiques focus on the major issues in your manuscript and a good critique should focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

You can have a critique partner provide feedback of your manuscript as a whole, or you can ask them to provide chapter-by-chapter reports that focus on elements such as:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Point of View Issue
  • Dialogue
  • Description (too much or too little)
  • Areas of confusions, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy
  • Sensitive/ethical issues or anything else that may harm your chances of publication.

Before you hire a structural editor or look for a professional critique, it would be wise to exhaust all free resources at your disposal, this includes beta readers, critique groups and critique partners. That way, your manuscript is in the best condition is can be before you invest in professional feedback.

Editing a manuscript can be hard work, but if you find an editor you ‘click’ with then this collaborative effort can be deeply rewarding.

If you have a short story, novella or novel that you believe could benefit from a professional critique, you can find my list of services here.

Desires vs Goals

(Note: The video version of this blog can be found here)

As writers, we all want to write amazing novels. We want to write the kind of novels that readers can’t put down. Novels that take readers on epic journeys far away from their everyday life and that allow them to experience the world through another’s eyes. Novels that challenge readers, that teach them something, that inform them about important issues or that move them in some profound way.

As writers, we want to get agents, sign deals and see our books in stores. We want to go on a book tour and do interviews with smart journalists. We want our online platforms to explode along with our sales. We want readers to send us fan art or emails detailing what our book meant to them.

These secret desires can be rocket fuel on days when inspiration is running thin. Be warned though, these same desires can quickly lead to disappointment and apathy. When these thrilling futures fail to materialise, we may wind up asking, ‘Why hasn’t it happened yet? What’s the point in trying anymore?’ or worse, ‘Maybe I’m no good at this.’

Dreaming about hitting the New York Times Best Seller List or winning a prestigious award can be a fun way to occupy your time while waiting in a doctor’s office or lazily drinking tea on a Sunday afternoon, but there is a big difference between desires and goals.

Getting an agent, a book deal, winning a literary award or experiencing skyrocketing sales are desires. You have absolutely no control (or very little) over any of these events becoming a reality. However, you are fully in charge when it comes to goals.

Goals are specific, measurable and they have deadlines.

Getting an agent is a desire. Querying five agents in the first quarter of the year is a goal. The former is ambiguous and disempowering, the latter is exact and empowering. Goals are specific and measurable. In the case of the above example, you have set the goal to email five agents, and the self-imposed deadline will help keep you on track and focused.

Of course, some goals will involve others, but it’s important that you continue to recognise the difference between a goal and a desire.

Desire: The proofreader will find all the typos in my manuscript.

Goal: The proofreader and I will complete the final round of edits by October.

While it’s fun to imagine the future our current WIP may one day experience, it’s important that we keep our feet firmly on the ground. After all, that shiny ‘one-day’ future will never happen if you don’t do the work.

When working on a project, there is tremendous value in setting goals. However, setting vague goals like “Write a Book” can lead to overwhelm and procrastination. It’s just too damn BIG! Plus, it will be a long time before you experience the satisfaction of crossing that item off your goal list. Instead, it’s much more productive to break that one massive goal into much smaller goals.

Remember: A goal is something you are in charge of.

Instead of setting “Write a Book” as a goal, consider the steps involved in that process. This one goal could easily be broken down into something like this:

  1. Read a craft book such as Save the Cat by Jessica Brody
  2. Spend one week creating character profiles
  3. Spend one week outline the novel using the Save the Cat principles
  4. Write 500-1000 words a day, five days a week. Hit 80,000 words by July 12.
  5. Re-read manuscript in one/two sittings while making note of any large structural issues or plot holes
  6. Spend one week creating a plan on how to revise initial draft
  7. Spend one-two hours, five days a week, revising
  8. Spend 2-3 weeks re-read the revised draft and make any final adjustments
  9. Ask five friends to become beta-readers
  10. Drink copious amounts of whiskey while waiting for beta-reader feedback.

Of course, some of these goals could be broken down further, but you get the idea. For instance, I prefer to complete step ten while clutching my battered copy of Stephen King’s On Writing and crying.

Desires can be inspiring, motivating and energising, but they can lead to dissatisfaction. Goals may be less thrilling, but what they lack in shimmer they make up for in pragmatism. Please, do not underestimate the energy and motivation that comes from real progress. It may not be the Ra-Ra excitement you experience when imagining hitting the New York Times Best Seller List, but those big exciting moment won’t ever happen if you don’t first build the habit of setting realistic and achievable goals.

So, what are you waiting for? Get to it!

The Rise of the Hybrid Novel

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog that listed my favourite reads of 2018. Of the six novels that I listed, five could easily be described as literary hybrids.

A hybrid is a novel that can be identified as literary but that also contains the tropes typically associated with genre fiction. For those of you who may be a bit lost, literary fiction can be described as intellectual narratives that explore ideas and themes through the vessel of story. For example, the rape trial depicted in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is not about Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson, it is about racial injustice and the loss of innocence.

Literary fictions tell the reader a story, but the story is not the point. You can enjoy a literary book for its ‘plot’, but the purpose of literature is to communicate a bigger idea or to contribute to a cultural/political/social discussion. Imagine the story as a monster costume and it is your job as the reader to find the zipper and to peak underneath.

Genre fictions are stories that use similar elements, tropes or structures. Horror, science fiction, romance and crime are considered the largest genre categories, but beneath these umbrella terms lies a multitude of subgenres. Readers of genre fiction have set expectations of how a novel from a certain genre will handle elements such as plot, character and setting. If you select a novel from the crime section of your local bookstore, before you even crack the spine, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what that story is about. Obviously, not all crime books are the same, but readers of crime fiction would expect the novel to be about a crime told through the perspective of the person whose ‘job’ it is to solve it. Note: The character may not get paid for solving this crime (detective, lawyer), but instead have a personal motivation (victim).

At their best, literary fiction is seen as sophisticated and highbrow; they are the types of novels that get nominated for awards. At their worst, they’re considered elitist. Genre fiction can be described as entertaining, exciting and engaging, but their (supposed) lack of originality can mean they are perceived as ‘childish’ or ‘books for dumb people.’

And yet, five of my favourite novels from last year are literary hybrids: smart novels that use genre tropes.

Australian authors Angela Myer, Jane Rawson and Emily Maguire have all chosen to include genre tropes as part of their literary explorations of feminism, technology, ecology, sex and violence. American author Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of short stories Her Body and Other Parties combines horror and science fiction tropes as she explores the themes of women’s bodies, sex writing and queer writing. George Saunders identified himself as a science fiction writer, yet critics consider him a hybrid author due to his literary voice and his 2016 win of the Man Booker Prize for Lincoln in the Bardo only further solidified this title.

So, why are literary authors suddenly using genre tropes?

Literary fiction is often described as realist fiction, by which I mean, no aliens or monsters. Of course, there are examples of literary novels that are told via otherworldly perspectives. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is narrated by Death and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is narrated by a deceased teenage girl following a brutal rape and murder. Though these novels are told through the perspective of mystic beings, they are not considered hybrid novels as they do not use genre tropes.

Perhaps literary novelists are including elements from genre fiction as a way to test their skills as a writer and to stretch the boundaries of their own genre. It takes a high level of skill to use supernatural creature or futuristic technology within a text that can also be described as intellectual. Realism, as a mode, is somewhat limiting. Perhaps literary novelists are enjoying the innovation and possibilities that can occur when realism is blended with elements of the fantastical.

Interestingly, this trend also goes the other way as authors like Stephen King, who is typically described as a horror author, won the medal for American Letters in 2003 and the National Medal for Arts in 2015; an award previously won by Ray Bradbury, Harper Lee and Maya Angelou.

Considering that genre fiction is sometimes described as Popular Fiction, i.e., fiction for general audiences, the sceptic in me wonders if literary authors are simply trying to get in on the market. In general, genre books outsell literary fiction. With publishing houses merging (Penguin/Random House) and book deals becoming harder to secure, perhaps literary novels are doing what they can to appeal to both genre and literary readers.

Regardless of the motivation (author or publisher), hybrid novels are successfully bridging the divide between these two camps. And more importantly, they make for a ripper read.