Everyone had a different opinion on how to do…well…anything. Mostly because there is no set method and different things work for different people. So when the writers that Google find for you tell you to find a specialism, or niche, there are just as many writers out there who will tell you they don’t have one.
The key is to figure out what works best for you.
You could try no specialism
Having no specialism means you will write anything. You may have some things that you just will not do, companies or publications that go against your values, but otherwise you’ll happily tap away at your keyboard for anything if the money is right.
There’s nothing morally wrong with this approach. But no specialism means you’ll take on any work. Yup, any work. Even those boring jobs. And, in my experience, the boring ones are the ones that pay best. So you do more and more of them, and before you know it your brain has shut down purely for want of something exciting.
Why a specialism can be a good idea
But if you choose a specialism, something that interests you, in theory you can write about it for hours, days even, without getting close to bored. Even if it’s lower paying, you’ll be able to do more, so maybe you’ll eventually earn the same but you’ll enjoy it. And that’s why you started writing for money, isn’t it? To enjoy what you get paid to do.
Although it should be pointed out that often when something becomes ‘work’ it automatically becomes boring. I personally think this is drilled into us during school and it’s a habit that is hard for your brain to unlearn but for the sake of earning a living doing something you love, we must learn to unlearn it! (If you know what I mean.)
So how to find your specialism?
It should be easy. I’ve read so many articles about this, I could recite them with my eyes shut. Write a list of things you enjoy, include your hobbies and work experience. What do you know? Who do you know? Join it all together and see if there are any well-paying markets there. Simple. Apparently.
If you’re into technology or finance, I have good news for you. These are the kind of topics people don’t want to write about. Because of that, they generally pay well and there’s less competition.
But if you’re like me, you might have to get more creative. I like animals (as do 90% of other writers), I have pets (who doesn’t), and I love film (like everyone else), so while these could become specialisms, these are really tough markets to break. The way to get around this is to focus your specialism. Narrow it down to indie film, or exotic pets or the conservation of British marine life.
The problems I’ve encountered
Yeah, it’s still not that simple. When I made my list of interests, top of my list was my degree in archaeology. I love this stuff, but I only went so far with it in my education. Without the work experience, Masters degree and PHD, most publications won’t even look at me. The same goes for anyone who got excited at the mention of conserving British marine life.
And then there are other problems. Over the last couple of months I decided to focus on the paranormal. Strange incidents, ghost sightings, unexplainable phenomena, mixed with ancient mythology and human artefacts (see, bringing in my degree!). Not only do I find this stuff fascinating, but the stories can be manipulated to fit wildly different publications, and, to top it all off, the research helps me with my fiction writing.
But then I got scared. I don’t mean scared of sending that pitch, I mean freaked out by the strange phenomena and ghosts! I went to Edinburgh last week with the intention of going on one of the scariest ghost walks, and I chickened out. This doesn’t mean that I can’t focus on this specialism – there’s plenty of less scary elements – but now I know I have to be wary of how deep into the rabbit hole I go.
The middle ground: choose more than one specialism
This scary type of focus is why it can be a good idea to have a number of specialisms. Think about it. It broadens the number of publications and businesses you can pitch and keeps your writing days varied and interesting. Fed up with writing about taxes? Move on to that interior design article.
It also gives you a chance to grow. Try out some different workshops, or some courses or that hobby you’ve always thought you might like. Not only will it give you more story ideas and help you meet more people but you’ll have more credentials to convince the editors or CEOs that you’re the writer they want to hire.
And in the future…
And don’t think that once you’ve chosen your specialisms that you have to stick with them forever. As life goes on, you’ll develop new interests and you’ll change. Your writing will change with you and so your business needs to evolve.
Go with what you enjoy. Be passion led, but keep your business brain on at the same time. And (and I say this to myself as much as to you) have fun with it. Because if it’s not fun, you might as well go back to the 9-5 office job and write that novel when you have the odd hour spare.