“Craft evolves from interactions between an artist and their material, and in this way, new definitions of craft come through planting seeds.”
— Ben Ristow, Craft Consciousness and
Artistic Practice in Creative Writing
I can’t tell, these days, if a line that comes to me belongs in one genre or another.
I’ve always worked in multiple genres, but for many years it was in distinct categories, the way that workshop courses are split up and clearly labeled.
My first taste of hybridity might have been the prose poem, a form I began to use in MFA workshops. The workshop’s reaction to another writer’s work seemed to be that there was something wrong with prose poems—they weren’t real poetry, was the implication. What’s worse—there were shades of identifying that form as too femme for serious literature. Being the quietly rebellious type, I mostly submitted prose poems for the rest of the semester, even as I was told week after week where my line breaks should be. Around this time, I dipped my toes into lyric essays as well. My lines between prose and poetry were beginning to blur.
Years later, I came to the idea of queering. I began studying works that queered narrative and boundaries, that recalibrated the very idea of what writing could do: Vivek Shraya’s She of the Mountains (2014), Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House (2019), Nikita Gill’s The Girl and the Goddess (2020), torrin a. greathouse’s Wound from the Mouth of a Wound (2020), Fatimah Asghar’s When We Were Sisters (2022), Natalie Wee’s Beast at Every Threshold (2022), Marisa Crane’s I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself (2023), Henry Hoke’s Open Throat (2023), Kai Cheng Thom’s Falling Back in Love with Being Human (2023). I saw this great potential to play with voice and form and style, to borrow from all and any genres that could add to a text. They were not limited to linearity, narrative prose, or line broken poetry. These works were wild—poetry beside prose, illustration in adult texts that weren’t graphic novels, seeing the world through a mountain lion’s eyes, witnessing governmental tyranny and queer grief with a direct narratee. What are rules in the face of all this creative possibility?
I, like all of us, am not only one thing. I am queer; I am not only queer. Queerness is what instigated my curiosity, but it became more, too.
By this point, I had been experimenting with form for years. In some ways I still categorized this work safely under the established title of ‘hermit crab essays.’ My writing about disability took on the shapes of scripts and medical documentation, reimagined dictionaries and bingo sheets. I saw this as another way to rebel, to have a punk attitude toward ableism. It was reappropriating a lot of established genres for not only creative writing, but also narratives from a disabled/chronically ill vantage point. I hadn’t quite connected this to queering creative writing, an idea I would come to later, and it would take time to see the connections between disability in these essays and my writing process more generally.
In the summer of 2023, I was bedridden for a week with some virus or another. I could not stay vertical, even sitting. I could barely stay awake, and eating turned my stomach. My sick brain still wanted to be creative, but I couldn’t sit up on my computer. Twice during this bout of illness, I rolled over and scribbled in a notebook. These pieces would eventually become my first two multimodal pieces: “A GenderCrip Creation Myth” would use the image of a uterus, its language and form something between prose and poetry, but not quite prose poetry or lyric essay, either, not exactly. “In Sickness & In Health” would be transferred to a page that incorporated imagery of pink lace, flowers, and a delicate headless woman. Both of these pieces spoke to gender and disability, queerness and illness. It was around this time that I began to realize that part of my relationship to gender was necessarily tied to my relationship to my body, and mine is a crip body, and so my gender is not so straightforward as the cultural narratives would have me believe. I was many things at once—femme, disabled, sick, queer—just as my work was many things at once.
I began to cut out words and phrases from magazines and newspapers—the kinds of junk mail that piles up and then just goes to the landfill. I wanted to recontextualize it, to do something with it, to create a fun project for myself at a time when a lot of things could otherwise be stressful and heavy. These soon became found poems. Some days I cut up words, some days I arranged them and glued, only ever as I felt the desire to do so. I had been told for many, many years about the discipline necessary to become a writer. But I had sidelined the love, the joy, the spark of fun that could really make creative writing sing.
Part of this method is letting my interior have free reign (my disabled, neurodivergent brain; my queer spirit, if you will). Part of it, I slowly realized, is also a manifestation of my physical existence.
If I glue for too long, my fingers start to go rigid in particular ways.
If I type for too long, my shoulders start to hurt.
Shifting from one project to another, from one medium to another, as feels instinctive for me saves my body from unnecessary pain. So it is not only a matter of content that is queer or crip—it’s form, it’s process, it’s every part of what a piece of writing is and isn’t.
This is not a craft essay that wants to tell you how to write. This is a craft essay that wants, more than anything, to encourage you to listen to your own writing instincts, to follow the creative sparks that reinvigorate you, to allow yourself—and your art—as much freedom as you can manage.
I’m taking risks in ways that I never have before. I’m using materials—digital textures, tissue paper, newspapers—that I never would have even considered ten years ago.
What would creative writing look like if more of us followed our artistic instincts?
What if we worked in multiple genres, multiple mediums, rather than feeling obligated to stay in our lane?
What if we followed the things that bring us joy and let the concerns of publishing and audience come after?
What if we embraced every part of ourselves—physical, mental, spiritual—and let our writing grow naturally from that?
What could we be?
What could we do?
The possibilities feel endless.