I’m Not Sure What Kind of Writer I Want to Be
Is writing within a niche really that important?
I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. I remember getting in trouble for staying up late with a flashlight under my comforter, trying to finish one more chapter of a novel when I was supposed to sleeping. Like many readers, my love of reading evolved into the desire to try and create the kinds of material that I so enjoyed consuming.
I’ve been writing for almost as long as I have been reading. Before I could actually scrawl full sentences, my Mom would write down poems and stories that I rambled to her in kid-language.
I’m lucky enough to be able to look back at years of my own writing experiments, from my elementary school fantasy stories to my adolescent beat poetry, to my first cringey attempt at writing a 50,000-word novel.
I’ve always read all kinds of things: historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, nonfiction, poetry, philosophy, essays, blogs and more. I’ve also made a stab at writing pretty much every kind of thing that I enjoy reading. Just like how I’ve never been limited in what I enjoy reading, I’ve never limited myself when it comes to what I try to write.
When I was a kid, I often fantasized about becoming a professional writer, but this was a dream that faded into the background over the years as I became more interested in pursuing other goals. I didn’t stop writing, but I did it far less often, and I didn’t really show my writing to anyone.
In the last couple of years, I became more seriously interested in writing again. I started writing more frequently and sharing some of the things I wrote with friends and online. It all felt very awkward and clunky at first, kind of like stretching your muscles when you’ve been sitting on the couch for weeks.
Writing, like most anything else, is something you need to practice in order to maintain and grow your skills. I’ve been practising quite a bit. Over time, I’ve started to gain more confidence in my writing again and to get more excited about the kind of writing I might do in the future.
Recently, I’ve been getting positive feedback on my writing, and it’s made me feel very valid as an artist. I’m starting to actually believe that I might be able to become a professional writer. I’m not ready to quit my day job yet– but I have been doing a lot of research about the best ways to get experience and succeed as a writer.
It is good to write in a niche…
I’ve learned that many successful writers tend to (mostly) stick to a particular genre or a particular kind of subject matter. I can see why this makes sense, both when it comes to developing your craft and selling your writing.
Writing the same kind of thing over and over again certainly seems to make you good at it. This kind of repetition of and dedication to anything is bound to lead to skill. Prolific writers who shine within their genres are great evidence of this. Stephen King is the master of horror because he’s written almost 100 novels. Philip K. Dick’s short sci-fi is consistently good because he published 121 short stories.
Sticking to a genre can also be a good idea when it comes to the business end of writing. If your readers know that you usually write about fly-fishing, parenting, sex, politics, or music– it really doesn’t matter what you choose. What matters is that people know what to expect when they read your work.
These topics become a “brand” that your audience depends on. After a while, you get to know your audience, and you can get better at writing about the things that interest them.
…but I’m reluctant to stick to one
While I understand all the advantages of writing within a niche, I have some doubts about trying to “pick” one.
All the articles online about “finding your niche” seem to suggest that you should let your own interests and passions select your niche for you. This is also advice that sounds wise and reasonable to me.
If you grew up in a cult, it would make sense for you to write about the dangers of cult-thinking. If you raise exotic birds, writing about their care and keeping seems like it would be right up your alley. If you’ve always been a Tolkein freak, maybe your niche is epic fantasy.
But…there are so many things I’m interested in, and so many things I’m passionate about!
I also just get so much joy out of exploring different topics and trying different styles of writing. Some days I wake up and feel like writing sonnets and limericks, and other days I feel compelled to do a research dive into some topic I heard about on a podcast.
Some people suggest that you should choose what to write about based on your areas of expertise. There are very few areas in life where I feel like I have any kind “expert” knowledge– but trying to pick any of those just makes me question my own competence. There’s always so much more to learn about everything! The more I try to write about one thing, the less knowledgeable I feel about it.
Worries and fears
More than just being indecisive, I also have anxiety about my integrity as an artist. I’m afraid of losing originality, authenticity, and the kind of raw creative inspiration that makes any kind of art personal and meaningful instead of just profitable.
Would I even be happy in a career as a writer if I ended up writing about things that didn’t inspire me, just so I could continue to please an audience? I can’t imagine how unhappy I would be if I had to limit my reading based on other people’s preferences.
Trying new things is what I love to do, but I can’t deny that writing in different genres or about different topics will probably make for a weaker “personal brand.” This might have a negative effect on my ability to retain an audience or to make money from my writing.
The reason why I’m continuing to experiment is that I feel like it’s the only way I’ll ever legitimately arrive at what my “thing” is, in a way that makes my work feel satisfying and fulfilling. If I ever want to find the “me” version of what horror is for Stephen King or film reviews are for Roger Ebert, I feel like I have to let it happen naturally.
Wouldn't it be a shame if there was a brilliant screenplay somewhere in the back of your mind, but you never let it out onto the page because you wanted to fit into the box of “poet” or “journalist”? What if you were meant to write the novel of the century, but felt like you had to stick to technical writing because it paid the bills?
There’s a lot of writing advice out there, but the one thing everyone seems to agree on is “keep writing.” If I’m going to follow my passion, I want to make sure that I never lose my passion for it. So “keep writing” is exactly what I’m going to do.