Should you find your writing niche?

by limebirdvanessa

Some people only write romance novels, others are screenwriters or poets. Some only write technical manuals about the functionality of air conditioning systems. Some focus only on non-fiction, others on only one genre. Me, I do it all (what do you mean you’ve never read one of my technical manuals about the functionality of air conditioning systems?). Without knowing the stats, I’m guessingΒ that there are more writers like me, who dabble in several kinds of writing, than there are the highly specialised ones who have their niche and stick to it. Of course I don’t actually do it ALL, but I write short and long stories under various genres, poems, magazine articles, screenplays, and I’m currently working on a non-fiction book.

I really enjoy flexing my writing muscles in a range of different arenas, but I’ve started to wonder if I’m diluting myself too much by doing this. For instance, would I be a better short story writer if I only wrote short stories? My logic says yes, however, there is a lot to be said for developing your writing skills widely so that you can adapt to various writing requirements.

Several days ago, I was asked to write a review of a rock gig I attended in London. I had never written a music review before, but I felt quite excited to be doing a different type of writing. I read several online reviews from the big music magazines to get a sense of the voice and terminology they use, and set to work. I found it much harder to do than I had expected, and I soon realised it is somewhat of a specialised area, but I did manage to produce something in the end. The person who asked me to write it said he was very happy with what I had done, but personally I felt that I just hadn’t found the right voice for it. It seemed too pretty and polished to me – more like a review of a local production of The Sound of Music rather than a review of an edgy rock gig at a London club. But I enjoyed doing it, and would be glad of an opportunity to do more, so as to learn how to better capture the tone needed for that type of writing.

It was this review writing experience that started me thinking about writing niches and whether it is important to have one. I have often heard said, not just about writing, but in other areas too, that you should present yourself as a specialist first and a generalist second. Applying that to this is leading me towards thinking that I should work to develop one specialist writing area that I concentrate most of my efforts on, but still keep a broad base of other writing types that I dip in and out of when I can.

Do you have a writing niche? If so, do you stick exclusively to that? Or If not, do you think you should have one?

42 Comments to “Should you find your writing niche?”

  1. Love love LOVE this post Vanessa! It’s a very tricky subject as I kind of agree with both sides! As a copywriter, I have to write in so many different styles/genres about lots of things I don’t know much about most of the time. However, I also dip into fiction writing and short stories. However, I do think that to become truly amazing at something, you probably have to focus entirely on that.

    Having said that, so many people are different in the way they work. I could easily flick between writing my fiction work and then writing an article about loans without batting an eyelid. I don’t really have a choice about this though…. haha! Great post!

  2. Vanessa,
    This is a great post and something I’ve considered quite a bit. I write non-fiction for work (what, you’ve never read my work about medical device sterilization?), but I love to blog and write fiction, too.

    My dad did give me a wake-up call a few years back, though. I was writing short stories, trying to crank out a novel and spreading myself too thin. He said to focus on either novels or short stories. I think he was right. I don’t have a choice about work: I have to write about whatever in order to get paid.

    But I do have a choice about what I write about in my “free” time. And focusing on the novel kept me from getting too distracted with characters parading through my mind. ; )

    • I have indeed read your work on medical device sterilization, it was a real page turner, I couldn’t put it down! πŸ˜‰

      Yes, sometimes you have to make a choice, but I wonder if it needs to a choice about just focusing on one thing at a time, or a choice about focusing on only one thing forever.

  3. There are just too many great things to write about to restrict oneself to one niche or genre, if you ask me! But I know some people probably are just spectacular at a certain type of writing, and that’s all they care to write about, so that works, too. I know I’d go nuts restricting myself, though. I definitely have a leaning more towards fantasy or magic realism, but every once in a while, it’s nice to dabble in something else.

    • Yes, I don’t like to restrict myself either. But it does sound like you have a particular chosen area for most of your focus, and then try other things from time to time, and perhaps that’s the way to go.

  4. I feel that I write all kinds of genres. It’s weird because I am a die-hard non-fiction fan when it comes to reading, but I enjoy writing fiction, and keep my written non-fiction stories to a minimum. However, I have written poems, reviews, articles, endless amounts of short-stories, half of a novel, and have recently started on a screenplay – all of different genres, whether it’s sci-fi, comedy, romantic, or a few technical. I don’t think writers should limit themselves to only one genre, because what’s the fun with that!?

    Great post, Vanessa!


  5. I mainly write historical romance, but dip into others as required, I did a story about what I thought a particular mosaic statue represented, without knowing the title, it was amazing because the sculptor and me seemed to be thinking along the same lines. The only genre I don’t get on with are Sci fi and Horror. but it is good to try other things. It is like asking an artist to just paint in black and white all the time when there is a rainbow of colours to choose from if you only write one genre.

    • I like the artist comparison there! I don’t write sci fi and horror either, not that I’m opposed to writing about them, but I just haven’t felt included or inspired to do so – probably because I don’t tend to read or watch them, so they’re not really on my radar.

  6. Great post! I ask myself this daily. πŸ™‚

  7. Great post Vanessa! I’ve been out of school for over 30 yrs now, and have no college experience either. I wrote poetry back in school, but I’m doing short stories now, and that’s enough for me. At the moment, I simply have no interest in anything else – I have all I can do trying to get my stories right. Too many adverbs, wrong comma placement, etc. etc.

    I feel like I need to learn to do this one thing well before I branch out and try another like screenwriting or nonfiction. I know, I’m just really slow, lol.

    • Thanks Neeks. I don’t think it’s about you being slow though! You’ve just found your preferred area and are sticking to it, no need to feel that you have to branch out into other areas if this is working for you.

  8. You see advice to fiction writers that we should stick to one genre as we build our name and audience. (Oh, that sounds great. When does it actually happen?!) I’ve got two novels in progress, one definitely science fiction and the other I call mainstream. They’re very different stories, different tones, different writing styles…. Maybe agents and editors would tell me to focus on one genre or the other, but these are the stories the Muse has planted in my head. How can I ignore one of them?

    Maybe some writers are better suited to writing in one genre, and that’s fine for them. But I think we have to enjoy what we do if we’re going to be any good. So if mixing it up helps keep you creative and enjoying writing, I say go for it.

    • Yes you’re right, it is about enjoying it and being creative. If we put a business head on and direct ourselves too much in that way then we might lose the very point of why we’re doing it. And you definitely shouldn’t ignore your muse!

  9. Nice post!

    I did a post a little ways back (called “I don’t DO poetry”) that this made me think of. I think with writing it is nearly impossible to NOT write at least a little outside one’s favorite area. I mean, we all send (e)letters, right? Blog? Grocery lists?

    Okay, I get those aren’t all what we authors think of as writing, but some would argue that the AC manual isn’t either (but it IS). So, I guess I fall under the, “exercise the muscles you don’t use too, you might need them some day,” school of thought.

    I’m writing a novel, but I tend to actually write more blog posts. Right now (a third through draft one of the back story), my novel sucks (trust me, ok?). However, I’m doing some flash fiction prompts and some of them have been awesome (if I do say so myself). I actually wrote a poem (first one since maybe 2nd grade) that I was really happy with too.

    So, just because you’ve chosen to write screenplays, short stories, or whatever… well, that doesn’t mean that’s what you are best at. It also doesn’t mean that every story that you have to tell will be best told that way. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t be an excellent technical writer (heck, I wrote a poem about statistics!).

    If you write for a boss, you have to do what the boss says. If you write because you need to write, I say focus on that and the rest will come. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

  10. Style perhaps more than niche. My current novel is mainstream fiction, one of the lighter things I’ll ever write. The next deals with domestic violence, and not as a secondary theme – the whole novel centres on it. The protagonist in the third is of the consequences faced by a partner in a lesbian relationship after the death of the other and the discovery of steroids in their apartment. Since she’s a successful college basketball player, it kicks up quite a fuss. And her partner, transgendered, died because emergency medical technicians refused to treat her. The fourth? Protagonist looks back on her childhood and what she endured from a paedophilic priest. Fifth? A 15 year old accidently outs herself in class, in 1969. Sixth… lesbian partners, a bi-racial couple, are attacked while out sailing for the day.

    So… niche? Maybe, but I can wander rather far afield. πŸ™‚

    • Wow, you’re tackling some big subjects there Nelle! So I guess that kind of is your niche then, having characters who deal with emotionally intense situations, I just don’t know what counts as a niche anymore! Depends which way you slice it…

  11. I try to stick with just a few, so I don’t spend too much time getting up to speed when I switch tracks. I only write about things I’m interested in or passionate about, though. All the rest makes my eyes close.

    • I think that is indeed an issue Jilanne, taking a while to get back into the particular mind you need for each one. I guess in theory though, the more you tackle a range of different ones, the easier it is to switch between them – or maybe it just gets more confusing, I don’t know!

  12. I was a fiction writer. Now I want to write technical manuals about the functionality of air conditioning systems πŸ™‚

  13. Pete’s comment cracked me up.

    Can you claim a niche with one manuscript under your belt? I think I found my blog niche tho.

    • I think you can claim it with only one, if it’s an area that you’ve now decided to focus on – who’s going to stop you claiming it? πŸ˜‰

      I haven’t even found my blog niche, my post subjects are pretty random a lot of the time as you know! Parenting is a common theme on mine, but not an exclusive theme.

  14. I like to try writing different things. As a professional, I have a particular niche but I’m working on expanding that. I like the challenge of stepping outside my comfort writing zone.

  15. I haven’t really tried, but I don’t know if I’d be good at normal things that aren’t about aliens or demons or magical forests. I try sometimes, though. Once I wrote an OK drama. I guess all you can do is try!

  16. If you write why not spread your wings? I have written suspense romance and juvenile fiction. Still, publishers seem to prefer authors be of one genre.
    Blessings – Maxi

  17. Great post, and very timely for me. My passion is writing novel-length stories, but I have found that when I try my hand at short stories or poetry I am honing a certain area of writing which ultimately affects my novel-writing skills. I say ‘affects’ rather than ‘helps’ or ‘enhances’ only because I don’t know how well I’m learning. But I am learning.

    It is possible to stretch too thin, but only if you’re equally committed to all of those projects. I think if we’re focused on one main project on a daily basis, but ‘practice’ with other other writing techniques to supplement our main love, then learning how to write in different ways can be beneficial.

    • Yes, I’m definitely leaning towards the idea that it’s good to focus on one preferred area, but also very good to try out and practice with other areas as a way of broadening our writing skills base.

  18. My worry is that by spreading myself too thinly I may lose credability as I writer in one genre or another. I really hope that’s not the case as I enjoy fantasy, horror and erotica just like my tagline says.

    • Yes, that is the worry isn’t it, that we’ll just be seen as averagely good in several writing genres, rather than brilliant in one! I always believe in not forcing things though, while it feels right to keep dabbling in several things, I shall keep doing so, maybe one day it might feel right to specialise, who knows!

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