As I sat at my desk, staring outside at the uncharacteristically dreary California sky, I considered the idea that is so often pressed upon writers to “choose a specialization”. If there’s anything I can’t do well, it’s narrow my options down. Perhaps that’s a bit hippie-free-spirit, but so be it. I like to have the option to choose what I want to write about, and if I had to resign myself to the next however many years writing about one thing, I’d probably go back to Corporate America.
But then I started thinking. The notion that a writer has to focus on one thing, even if it’s one general topic – like travel – is ridiculous. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of The Renegade Writer (you MUST read both books if you haven’t yet – and are a writer – book review to come), but something in me rose up from the confines of completely illogical rule boxes and thought – this is stupid.
The candy store, the client, and the opportunity are three illustrations of this.
The Candy Store
Imagine, if you will, that you walk into a candy store with rows and rows of – candy corn. Every candy in the shop is the same. You ask the confectioner, “Do you have any other kind of candy?” and he proudly beams back “No ma’am, we specialize in candy corn.” Helpful on Halloween, but seriously?
A confectioner specializes in making candy, not making one kind of candy, and if any confectioner operated that way, I doubt anyone would go there. No variety, a one trick pony, whatever you want to call it, it’s just bad business and shows, if anything else, that the confectioner isn’t very versatile in his craft.
Clients very often need a wide array of topics, and it’s much easier for them to go to one person they know can write outstanding copy on a wide array of topics than to have a writer for every subject. Add to that the fact that most editors, publishers, clients, etc. know other people in other industries who might need copy, and if they know you are versatile, it’s likely they will pass along a good word. Being able to cover many areas is better than being able to do one topic much of the time.
Sometimes, if we as writers focus on our “specialization”, we tend to become rather tunnel vision. Let’s say you’re a travel writer and you’re focusing on finding out about the local community in some village. You could write about the village. *shrug* Or, if you’re thinking like a writer who refuses to specialize, you could write about the village for a travel publication, the experience of the women there and then apply it globally or regionally for a women’s magazine, could look at the local cuisine for a food magazine, could find out about that weird species of monkey you saw for….do you get my point? When you refuse to specialize, the opportunities for writing and stories dramatically increases – plus, you get more bang for your buck out of the cost of the trip, possibly selling three or four articles instead of just the one.
You specialize in writing. Period. If only one area interests you, cool, go for it. But most writers are interested in just about everything. That’s why we go into writing. Just as the confectioner specializes in candy making, not chocolate covered almonds, you and I specialize in writing, not in endangered species writing.
The truth is, all clients care about is that you can write outstanding copy with authority, excellent research, great sources, and tie it together in the right kind of present for their readers. That’s it. Why wouldn’t technical publications hire professionals in their field? Frankly, because most of them aren’t writers. That’s why writers are needed. Savvy?
So be rebellious, get a little naughty, think outside that box, and start to figure out how you can take many angles on one subject!
What do you think about writing for a specialization vs. writing as stories come up?