By: Noelle Sterne
Walking, Writing, and Finding our Stride
“No one every discouraged a child learning to walk with a statement like, “Wow, you fell down, bet you never walk.” No, we encourage them to get back up and try again. It’s the same with our recovery, or in this case, our writing. ~Marilyn L. Davis, Recovery isn’t Perfection; It’s Progress
Writing is like growing up. From babyhood, we must learn to crawl (= write junk), wobble half-upright (= write a little less junk), walk in spurts (= write much less junk), run a little (= write more of what really is us), and finally gain balance to walk and run at will (= write in our true voice).
In life, if we could jump into adulthood from childhood or even early adolescence without living through each previous stage, we’d save much time and angst. In writing too, imagine learning enough from watching, reading, and hearing about others’ experiences, mistakes, misguided decisions, and failings so we wouldn’t have to experience them at all. But, unfortunately, or fortunately, we have to experience it all.
What Kind of Writer Are You?
So, developing your writing niche requires, first, the same kind of trial-and-error learning and perseverance as crawling, walking, and running. The learning means endless self-exploration, risk-taking, and careful attention to discovering your true preferences and passions as a writer—and admitting them.
Successful author and writing teacher James Scott Bell in The Art of War for Writers tells of a writer who “chose his genre by pure market calculation. And it worked for him.” (p. 62).
Bell comments by quoting David Morrell, bestselling intrigue/thriller novelist: Morrell is “not constituted to be that kind of writer. He can write only when there is something (an ‘inner ferret,’ he calls it) gnawing at him, something that needs expression from the deepest part of himself” (p. 62).
Which type of writer are you?
The Passionate Inward Writer
Are you a writer who, like Morrell (and I’m sure Bell), must write what you are led to and fervent about? What swells up from inside and cannot be denied, even through years of distractions? Does the unwritten essay, article, poem positively call to you? Do you feel what Julia Cameron describes in The Artist’s Way?
If I have a poem [or story, essay, or novel] to write, I need to write that poem . . . . I need to create what wants to be created. I cannot plan a career to unfold in a sensible direction dictated by cash flow and marketing strategies. (180)
If you are the passionate type, you write, write, write, and then look for markets. You may make money, often don’t, accept that condition, and generally engage in other income-producing work.
The Practical Outward Writer
Or do you love to write anything, and will—from corporate newsletters to trade manuals to news stories to profiles and even to short stories? Are you turned on by matching your talent to the paychecks, the bigger, the better? Do you crave to get into Woman’s Day, GQ, Scientific American, Esquire, Technorati, Sommeliers’ Grapevine? Gastroenterologists’ Digest? And you look forward to plunging into planning, researching, and interviewing as much as required?
If you are this type, look for markets that need writers. Study the articles in magazines and entries in blogs and write to the editors. The topics may or may not overlap with your general interests, but as long as you’re writing, you don’t mind. With practice and diligence, you’ll become a proficient and reliable freelancer, often make good money, gain a reputation as reliable, and attract invitations to write more.
Uncover Your Niche
What are you passionate about? What must you write about? Are there writing projects that make you so excited that even though you’re bone-weary, you can hardly fall asleep. When you do, you awake spontaneously at first light, rarin’ to commune with your mouse.
Of course, writers of the two types we just talked about, and many variations along the continuum, find their niche(s) based on their likes and passions.
- Longtime freelancer Kelly James-Enger, a personal trainer as well as a writer, specializes in subjects involving health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition, as well as writing craft and informational articles.
- Christina Hamlett, playwright, columnist, and consultant, concentrates on writing and producing plays and helping screenwriters with wise how-tos.
- Jennifer Brown Banks writes columns in her own blog as well as a wide range of subjects for many other blogs and newsletters.
- Jane McBride Choate publishes adult romances, stories for adults and children, and writing craft pieces.
The Two Sides, Not Necessarily Warring
Although I’m the “passionate” inward type and write in several niches, as I’ve produced more, I’ve become familiar with various markets for my types of writing. In the more “practical mode,” I sometimes write queries or pieces with these markets in mind.
If you discover, as I have, that you also warm to the “other” type of writing, your creativity is additionally sparked in both. And taking breaks from one kind to the other fuels and refreshes you further.So, reflect on the major kind of writer you are. Especially when you have limited time to write, what gives you the greatest glow? Click To Tweet
As Bill Kenower says in his Author Magazine editor’s blog, “Choose the stories [and articles] that serve your life rather than serving some story that someone chose for you” (August 15, 2018).
Follow the Signs to Your Niche
You discover and develop your niche(s) through your writing. Here’s some help:
1. Who and what did you read, wallow in, escape to, as a kid?
2. When you have time to read now (sure), do you choose these same or other authors, works or genres?
3. Do you feel an aching admiration for the authors you read and wish wish wish to write like them?
4. Do you get a particular kick out of writing on specific subjects and genres?
5. Are people complimenting your writing more about one subject than another?
6. Are you getting accepted, more and more, in specific subjects and genres?
7. Do you want to write more in these?
Your answers are all clues and signs to your beckoning niche. Heed them.
No ExcusesOnce you find your niche(s), don’t use the old defense for not writing that the field is too crowded. This kind of “Yes, but . . .” dampens your newfound ardor and shuts down your motivation. Click To Tweet
Instead, look at all the successful people in every field and others coming up. Look at all the writers on writers’ craft, on fashion, fitness, and fad diets. All the novelists, columnists, and poets. All the new actors, singers, and reality stars. What does this tell you? That there’s always room for someone good. Remember and repeat.
Is That a New Niche?
Who knows? You may invent a new niche. Whoever heard of chicklit until a few years ago? What about:
- Paranormal romance
- Nanny tell-all’s
- Fashionista fantasies
- Caribbean time-sharing vampires
Sorry, I got carried away. But you may find that your writing does create an entirely new genre and you’re the first in that niche.
Your Niche is Calling You
Above all (and I repeat), write what you love, whether passionate or practical. Don’t write primarily about what you think you should write, what’s selling, or what another author is writing and selling. If you don’t follow your writing bliss, your lukewarmness will come through, despite your most dazzling wordplay.
Whatever your subject and genre, write in your most honest and open self. No one else can or will write like you. As you crawl, walk, and run, with the pen to paper and fingers to keyboard, you’ll identify, develop, master, and command your niche.
Author, editor, writing coach, writing workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 400 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and short stories.
Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, New Age Journal, Pen & Prosper, Sasee, Story Monsters Ink, The Write Place At the Write Time, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest.
Academic editor and coach, with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations and publishes articles in several blogs for dissertation writers.
Her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings.
Her book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) further aids doctoral candidates to award of their degrees.
As part of pursuing her writing Dream, Noelle’s mission is to help other writers reach their own and create the lives they truly desire.
Author, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. Unity Books, 2011.
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