Remember that time I promised you a three-part series on How to Become a Freelance Writer and wrote part one and then never wrote parts two and three? Yeah, well, I’m finally ready to address part two: finding your writing niche. This is ironic considering the reason I’ve been dragging my feet on this post is probably because this topic, I’ve realized, isn’t really in my writing niche. But I’m committed, so I will follow through. Even if part three doesn’t come out for another few months. Sorry in advance.
Ok, the writing niche.
If you haven’t read part one, you can here. If you have, you’ll remember this entire series is inspired by a coffee meeting I had with a freelance writer friend of mine several years ago. The last post was about what happened before the coffee. This post is about what happened during the coffee.
At Starbucks, my friend asked me an important question: What do you want to write about?
“I don’t know.” I said. “I don’t care. I’ll write about anything.”
I think this is a common response for people beginning their professional writing journey. Especially for those of us who truly enjoy the art of writing and just want to get paid for it already. But it’s not the most practical or helpful approach. I assumed being a freelance writer meant the assignments would come to me. All I had to do was make it known that I knew how to write and then say yes to the editor’s story idea. In reality, when you are first starting out as a freelancer, you go to the assignments. You come up with the ideas and then pitch them to the appropriate place.
It’s important to have a niche–something you are an expert in or at least have experience with–because that will set you apart to an editor who receives dozens of pitches a day. It will also narrow down who and where you pitch to. Want to write about sports? Don’t pitch parenting magazines. Want to write about parenting? Don’t pitch sports websites. Want to write about the reasons everyone should be an atheist? Don’t pitch Christianity Today.
At the time, I knew I wasn’t really an expert at anything, but I knew I was interested in nonprofit work, especially abroad and specifically in Africa, because I had recently traveled there. So I decided my niche would be writing about nonprofits and the work they’re doing in Nashville for people abroad. Starting local, starting small, is good. Choosing this niche turned out to be very beneficial in launching my future freelance career. I’ll write about why in part three. For now, let’s just focus on finding your niche.
Some of you might be reading this and you have a very specific idea of what your niche could be. Others have no idea. Don’t worry. Just because you don’t know what it is doesn’t mean you don’t have one. How about instead of asking you what your niche is, I ask you this instead: What breaks your heart?
In the past couple of weeks this question has come up in a couple of things I’ve read and seen on the internet. It’s this idea that what we are meant to do in life comes from the thing that breaks us open, the thing that makes us cry before we even realize we are crying. The thing you would be willing talk about from a soapbox in the middle of the street. It’s the thing that doesn’t create a loss for words in you but rather, a welling up words inside of you.
What breaks your heart is the best indicator for not only your writing niche but also for what you should be in life, in general. But we’ll stick to writing for now.
For me then, what broke my heart were the people and things I saw on a trip to Zimbabwe. That has changed a little bit since. Now when I think about this question, different scenes and ideas flicker in front me:
a child sitting alone at the lunch table
anyone sitting alone
the smart girl at school who has stopped raising her hand in class for fear of looking too smart, for fear of standing out in a world with a lot of conflicting ideas and messages about how a woman should be
a sentence written so well that I read it over and over, sometimes returning to it years later just to feel it again
My niche is changing. My passions are changing as I grow. This happens.
So, what breaks your heart? What makes words well up inside of you until they spill over? Whatever it is, that’s what you should write about. That is your niche. Follow the direction that is already in you.