Then there’s the other reason why I don’t broadcast the fact that I write to every Joe Schmo I meet: I really have no idea what I write.
Other than finally giving up on poetry (really, that wasn’t going anywhere), I’ll write about just anything. The blog and commentary center around my experiences as a local twenty-something in the woods, but I’m not sure that’s what I want as a “niche.” So I also write articles on local happenings, produce a historical radio documentary, and write travel scouting reports. In the fiction realm I dabble in short stories and longer works. I’d try out other writing too if given the opportunity. After all, it’s the process of getting the words on the page and editing them into the right order that I enjoy.
But does that mean I’m getting lost and overwhelmed on the freeway of information? Should I be looking for an exit, some specialized, smaller path on which to hone my skills, if only to have a break from the noise and bustle of the freeway?
Maybe we writers are better off choosing a genre and sticking with it. At the very least, we might want to spend enough time with one particular type of writing to develop some specialized skills. There’s always a huge risk involved with being a generalist: that we’ll learn to be fine at plenty of things but exceptional at nothing.
It’s been an age old problem. I don’t want to choose. My last two years of college were filled with an underlying fear that I was going to be forced to gather all my skills and interests into one tidy package as soon as I graduated. As I contemplated careers in publishing, editing, magazines, and newspapers, I realized I could be happy doing a lot of things. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that choosing one option over all others would result in me painting myself into the corner. Eventually I settled on freelance writing because I felt it gave me the broadest writing opportunities.
But if we’re to reach our earning potential as freelancers, there needs to be a certain level of specialization. Only by developing specific clips, credibility, and a reputation can we really prove our ability. It’s one thing to be well rounded. It’s another to be able to write in-depth stories.
I had a wonderful conversation with a man last Saturday who spent his career writing for a PR firm. He kept wanting to know what I write. I kept talking in circles. The conservation ended with him being certain he’d found the perfect story for me to pitch to the New York Times. But what struck me was my complete lack of a specific elevator pitch for my own writing, the very thing I claim to want to spend my life doing.
It seems growing up is about making choices. So is it time to stop playing at Peter Pan?