It would take a dozen blog posts just to address all the major common reasons writers don’t succeed. Lack of time management skills. Lack of focus. Not knowing how to prioritize tasks. Really, really bad luck.
Something I wish I had known when I started looking for work as a writer was the importance of narrowing down exactly what your writing is going to focus on.
A lot of people approach writing as this wondrous magical realm of endless possibilities — which I suppose it can be, if you’re looking at it from the outside in. But in reality, the writers who find the most success in their careers are the ones who at least start with one narrow path and get really, really good at navigating it.
Early on in my journey — because of what I was studying at the time as well as my interests — I decided to put my creative writing goals mostly on hold in order to pursue science writing.
At first, I was worried this was going to take away from my “true dream” and completely derail my progress. But what it actually did was allow me to develop skills I may not have developed otherwise. Plus, you know, it helped me pay off my student loans and get a “real” job.
Selecting a specific topic to write about changed everything for me — in the best way possible.
Many people say they want to write for a living but don’t have any goals beyond “getting something published someday.” There’s nothing wrong with that goal — it’s what the vast majority of us want, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
But if you really want your writing to go somewhere, you need to start heading in a specific direction. “I’ll write about anything” used to be my go-to selling point, too, but I learned pretty quick that’s not as intriguing of a declaration as it sounds.
Here’s the other issue to consider: If you write about “everything,” you’re never really spending a significant amount of time focusing on familiarizing yourself with one specific topic. And that will probably hurt you more than it helps you.
Clients didn’t hire me in the beginning because I could do anything. They hired me for a very specific purpose because I had built up experience and expertise in that particular area more than any other.
I wouldn’t stretch it and say I’ve “succeeded” as a writer. But I am definitely on my way to something many steps above where I started. Progress matters. I wouldn’t be where I am if I had wasted the first year of my professional writing life figuring out my “niche.” Or, multiple niches, as it turns out.
Writing aimlessly is fine — essential, even — in the beginning. You need time to figure out the topics that interest you enough to write about them often and discover the things you don’t want to research in-depth on an almost daily basis. You need to figure out what you’re good at writing about and what you aren’t, your strengths, your weaknesses, your place in all this.
At some point, though, you have to make a choice. What am I going to write about? What is going to be my “thing”? If and when I have business cards, what kind of writing are they going to say I do?
These are things you need to think about. Your answers are going to define your early days as a writer at the very least. That’s a good thing.
Even if you have to choose only one thing to focus on in the beginning, there is no rule that says you cannot branch out into multiple “niches” once you’ve gained a foothold in the first. It’s not wise to try doing too many things at once, especially in the beginning. I am someone who struggles with “never feeling like I’m doing enough things syndrome.” I get it. You want to do more. But you’ll get there. Have patience. Take it one interest at a time.
What’s most important right now is that you have a focus and you’re figuring out how to go after that one thing. I can guarantee it’s going to help you not only set goals, but also take important steps toward achieving them. I can’t guarantee your success — that part is up to you. I’m just here to tell you how to accomplish what you want to accomplish in the least painful manner possible.
Wherever you go from here, I hope you find your way. I hope you find where you fit in this intense creative world and I hope you end up in a place that makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
Being a writer is not easy. It never has been and it never will be. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means you’re going to have to work through the tough parts, appreciate the easier parts, and remember that every writer struggles. Even if they claim they don’t, they do. All of us do. The struggle is always worth it, though. Every single minute of it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.