This is an excerpt of Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love by Linda Formichelli.
You want to be a writer. You know that.
But what you don’t know is what the heck you want to write about.
And there are so many choices it can leave you feeling like a kid confronted with all 100 flavors of Ben and Jerry’s.
I’ll help you figure out the best path to take. And don’t worry: You can develop more than one niche, and if one type of writing doesn’t work out for you, you can choose another. It’s not do or die.
Dream vs. Reality
You dream of writing articles about gardening, or blogging on travel topics for a large audience, or writing case studies for non-profits focused on children. Worthy goals!
I know you don’t want to start out writing on topics you’re not passionate about. But I need to tell you that you’ll have the best luck ramping up your writing business fast if you leverage your job and educational background to start getting samples—and money—coming in.
There is room for passion projects. Of course! And you can develop a niche in any topic or field that interests you. But my goal is to help you get gigs and money flowing in as quickly as possible so you can leave the rat race, and that means building a portfolio of work you’ve done for clients.
You’re more likely to get those clients if you have some sort of expertise in the industry you’re targeting or in the topic you’re pitching for a blog post or article.
I’m very passionate about what I do, but I have absolutely had to write about topics that aren’t that interesting to me to keep the checks coming in. That’s the difference between being a business owner and a hobbyist: You do what it takes to make a living.
In any case, I believe a key quality of a successful writer is that you can become interested in almost any topic. Find something about it that excites you. It may be that your client’s enthusiasm for the topic is infectious, even if you don’t share his feelings. Or that you love writing and the freelance lifestyle so much that it makes even the most boring assignments look like total winners. (I like to say a bad day at freelancing beats a good day in the office!)
For example, most recently I had a great time writing an article about—get ready for it—cold-water carpet extraction. I managed to locate one source who loved the topic so much that we ended up talking for 45 minutes about the pros and cons of cold-water vs. hot-water extractors.
I’m certainly not advocating you write on topics you loathe and never want to think about again. But try to find an intersection between passion and practicality.
So don’t freak out when I ask you to consider pitching businesses and publications in fields you already know about. If you have time as you do this, you can work on breaking into your dream markets as well.
Mine Your Job
Surprise! You already know enough to break into all kinds of lucrative markets.
You’re in marketing, PR, HR, law, communications, customer service, finance, or tech? You can write for trade magazines (these are business-to-business industry publications; more on trades below) in just about any industry. Leaders in most fields want to read about how to better market to their customers, make the numbers work, stay out of legal trouble, find new tech gadgets that make their business run more smoothly, hire and communicate with great employees, and so on.
You have a background in teaching? Here are some options: Approach teaching industry trade magazines and university communications and marketing departments. Pitch articles about how to help your kid excel in school to parenting magazines. Start a blog for special ed teachers and use it to sell information products like e-books or courses. Write an e-book for parents who are helping their kids choose and get into universities.
Are you a server in a restaurant? Opportunities include writing marketing materials for restaurants and restaurant suppliers, targeting the many foodservice trade magazines, becoming a specialist in writing menus, writing a book that rounds up the funniest—and most horrific—situations servers have encountered with customers, and starting a blog for servers or restaurant execs where you’ll sell e-books addressing their most pressing problems.
You’re a doctor, nurse, or medical professional? You can write health and nutrition articles for national and custom magazines (more on custom pubs later), target hospitals and clinics, write for healthcare marketing firms, start your own health blog, or write (or ghostwrite) a consumer book on a health topic.
I could go on. The point is, whatever your background, there is likely a good market for you.
The same goes for your educational background. (Yours may be unrelated to the career you’re holding now, as is the case with so many people, like yours truly.) A degree in a particular topic makes you especially qualified to write about that topic.
For example, I have a friend who earned an MD degree but decided becoming a doctor wasn’t for her, so she ended up writing on health for some big-name websites.
No degree? No worries. As I mentioned above, you don’t need one to pursue a career in writing.
Make Your Hobbies Pay
Maybe you love to knit, go mountain biking, brew beer, bake, sail, take nature photos, or bargain hunt. Whatever hobby you pursue, you can probably find like-minded people, publications, and companies to build your writing business around.
Just think of all the homemaking, money saving, and cooking blogs out there making a mint. The books on hobbies ranging from martial arts to hat making. And the businesses that cater to all these hobbyists. These are all potential markets for you!
And don’t worry if your favorite hobby seems like an overfull niche (knitting, anyone?)—that just means there are lots of opportunities for writers and many people who want to read on that topic.
From Generalist to Specialist
Sometimes you really, really, really can’t choose a niche. You’re just interested in too many things!
This is what happened to me: When I was starting out, I wanted to write about whatever I felt interested in at the moment.
The bad news about this is it’s more difficult to break into a market if you have no experience in the industry or subject. The good news is, once you’ve proven you can write about pretty much any topic, that barrier will crumble.
Also, even if you’re writing about everything under the sun, you’ll eventually find yourself falling into niches as you develop expertise in different topics and learn what you enjoy writing most.
For example, even though I started out writing about pretty much everything, over time I developed very lucrative niches in marketing, health, and women’s interest, with smaller niches in nutrition, credit union issues, the restaurant industry, personal development, and pet health.
No one said you can’t write in more than one niche! It’s just easier at first to focus on one so your head doesn’t explode and so you gain momentum writing in a certain area. But if you’re like me and you love writing about different topics, and can’t imagine limiting yourself, don’t be afraid to start out as a generalist.
How about you—have you chosen a niche yet, and if so, what is it? And if not, what niches do you think will work best for you?