The multipotentialite writer is not well understood or rewarded—in fact, not just writers, but artists in any medium who venture into numerous creative areas face challenges in marketing their work and gaining followings in their various areas of interest.
What’s a multipotentialite?
A new phrase, Multipotentiality is an educational and psychological term referring to the ability and preference of a person, particularly one of strong intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields. It can also refer to an individual whose interests span multiple fields or areas, rather than being strong in just one. Such traits are called multipotentialities, while “multipotentialites” has been suggested as a name for those with this trait. (Wikipedia)
I am definitely a multipotentialite, having spent decades of my life deeply exploring various interests and rising to success in each of them. I worked in glass, made jewelry, drew and painted, and used all my talents for close to twenty years as a mental health therapist. Some of us have too many passions just to pick one, and that’s okay! Check out the term “multipotentialite” also known as a “polymath” or a “scanner.” There are many resources and lots of information about this type of person on this terrific website, Puttylike.
But I digress (as usual!) For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on the situation of writing in multiple genres.
Writing in multiple genres just does not make the most sense financially. Readers come to expect a certain something from an author, and that is their right. I am the same as a reader! I pick up an author I come to know and trust, seeking a certain kind of reading experience—and I’m not pleased when the sweet inspirational story I thought I was getting turns out to be vampire erotica (though a smart author signals this strongly through covers and book descriptions.)
On the flip side, being creatively pigeonholed into a certain niche is frustrating when your art is your business, and your business your art. The freedom to experiment is part of what makes being a creative so satisfying. Trying new expressions, new art forms, and new genres is part of the joy. I love writing mysteries, but I’m also drawn to write romance. Romance thrillers. Dystopian YA adventure. Nonfiction. Memoir. Teen mystery. Women’s fiction. Psychological suspense. I might even try science fiction or fantasy someday!
But as a person who is making a living with my art, I have to do more of what sells. This has been a tough call because doing the same thing over and over (such as writing the Lei Crime books, which sell best of all my stuff) just feels too confining. I have to be able to grow, or I get stuck—a feeling exactly like how a plant must feel, surviving in a pot that binds its roots.
During my lunch breaks I’ve been reading a book on creativity by Adam Kurtz, Things are What You Make of Them. I grabbed this little gem off the rack of the gift store on a recent trip to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. This page speaks to me as I struggle with being pigeonholed into Mystery/Thriller as far as sales, but wanting to keep writing other genres.
I shared the picture and post in an online group I’m in with some well-known author friends, and they had a variety of things to say in response. Here is my post, along with the photo of Kurtz’s book page:
“I’m pigeonholed into a genre right now. If I’d known what I know now, I might have developed a bunch of pen names early on, and just kept adding to them as I went, but in this crowded marketplace that seems crazy…The trouble with what we do is that it’s both art and business, and taking chances doesn’t always pay, though it keeps the muse alive. How have you dealt with this?”
Thriller (and other genres!) author Russell Blake had an inspiring answer:
“I deal with this every day. I've done a lot of things – musician, producer, entrepreneur, angel investor, VC, winemaker, architect and builder, writer. So when someone asks what I do, what should I answer? Any of them would be correct. And yet none of them really encapsulate what I do. I've come to think of myself as a creator. Whether designing a home, building it, writing, starting a company or developing a new business concept, the thing they all have in common is creation rather than destruction…Once you brand yourself as a creator, then the world opens up and you get to decide what and how you want to create today. So if you're going to brand yourself, choose something all-inclusive to what resonates and reflects your ideology and self-image, as well as where you want to go, because ultimately if you pick a good one for yourself it will direct your life and serve as a mission statement, if nothing else.” (Russell is clearly a multipotentialite!)
Lux Karpov Kinrade, who writes fantasy romance and a couple of other genres under Karpov Kinrade, chimed in:
“This is something my husband/co-writer and I struggle with. Not only with our multi-genre writing, but also as we branch out into music and eventually movie writing/making. We did use pen names and have some books under other pen names but are now trying to make Karpov Kinrade THE name for everything. It’s hard and I don’t really have answers.” (Married multipotentialites, creating together!)
Jana DeLeon, who writes cozy mystery and thriller/suspense, has a clear focus. “I have many talents and even more interests, but only one that makes me seven figures. That's the one I concentrate on. Writing is creative, but it's also my business. Everything about writing ceases to be personal when I write The End. Yes, it's a compromise.” (A super successful multipotentialite!)
Romance writer Rosalind James built on Jana’s comment. “As Jana said, depends why you write. I write primarily for personal satisfaction. I decided really early on, when my NZ series started really taking off, that I had to do something NOW to avoid being stuck in a box. If I didn't do it then, I thought I'd be too scared to upset my good thing. I wanted to know if I could write anything marketable outside of NZ rugby, if anybody was buying me for anything else. So I wrote a commercial fiction/romance mashup about a historical-reenactment reality show in Idaho with a huge cast of characters, then I wrote two totally different books in same series. That series actually sold almost as well as the first one. Since then I've continued to write in different subgenres (four in all, I guess), & tones, under same name. If I wanted to be constrained, I'd still be working for somebody else.”
It’s clear that there is no one answer; that each of us has to find the path that works best to lead us to our readers and them to us. I’m not the only writer to struggle with corralling my creative energies to focus them on the thing that best pays the bills. There are no easy answers—but in asking the question I found support with peers, and researching this piece, I came across a name for what I am and places that support the diversity of identity as a multipotentialite—and that’s another piece of the puzzle.
What about you? Do you have diverse interests that keep you from focusing on any one area? How has that helped or hurt your career?