In my five years as a freelance writer, I have so far avoided the thing that most people told me I’d eventually have to do, which is to carve out a niche for my writing.
This isn’t (just) because I’m naturally bloody-minded; that irritating person who wants to do the opposite of everything they’re told. It’s because I get bored far too easily. There’s something about doing the same kind of work, day in and day out, that makes me want to put my head on my desk and drift off into a dribbly coma.
My aversion to niche-ing goes way back. I studied disparate (some might say worthless) subjects at college, and even when I worked in HR, I was a generalist-who-did-everything rather than a recruitment specialist, policy writer, or conflict mediator.
(I also try not to join groups or go to events that are only for one specific type of person. OK, I might feel more comfortable being surrounded by people like me, but that will never lead to the most interesting conversations.)
These days, my writer’s CV is a wonderful mishmash of different projects for different people, which I never want to swap for the staleness of sameness. I love that people feel able to approach me with unusual ideas, and I enjoy the thrill that comes with getting under the skin of a new topic… aside from anything else, the knowledge it’s brought means I’m a fantastic addition to pub quiz teams.
But by turning my back on specialising in something-or-other, am I missing out on the megabucks?
If I was going to carve out a saleable niche for my writing, I could do worse than waxing lyrical more consistently on my choice not to have kids.
Not only did my book on the subject sell more than a handful of copies (to people other than my friends and family), but a childfree article I wrote in 2017 went slightly viral, covering my monthly mortgage payment several times over.
I say this not to brag (honest), but to demonstrate an area that could be ripe for me to niche in. I could set up a newsletter, start a dedicated blog, write more books, and monetise the whole damn lot. I could become a positive and recognisable ‘voice’ for childfree women. I could do what a business coach advised me to at the beginning of my freelance writing career, and “start a movement.”
But I don’t want to do any of those things. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to explore new subjects, meet lots of people who think differently to me, and be delighted by quirky facts every day.
Besides, there’s only so much you can say about most things in life. I’ve already said what I wanted to say about being childfree in my book, which is why I wrote it. So, if I wanted childfree-ness to be my ‘niche’ then I’d have to look around constantly for other, different ways to talk about it. Before long, I’d become that person others try to escape from at parties, because all they ever do is bang on about their job, or their car, or the football, or their kids.
(Maybe I’m already that person others try to escape from at parties without knowing it. But if I am, it won’t be because I’m always talking about the same boring old thing, and I’m OK with most of the other potential reasons.)
In essence, I don’t think I care enough about any subject to want to focus on it completely. That means if I were to “start a movement” I’d only be doing it for the money, and that would make me feel like a fraud. Since I started working for myself so I could stop feeling like a fraud, that would be silly.
There is so much pressure on freelancers to specialise, so they can be known for something that people can instantly recognise, which means building a dedicated following and blah blah blah. That approach has obvious merits if you’re truly passionate about your niche, and/or you yearn for a golden empire with riches of Elon Musk proportions.
But if you don’t, don’t.
Use the ‘free’ in freelancer as a licence to work on anything and everything you want to, instead. You probably won’t earn quite as much, but it’s likely you’ll be happier.
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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