How To Find Your Niche as a Writer

The Writing Nag, whose blog I adore because she nags, in an oh-so-sweet-way, writers to keep working, suggested this topic for a post:  How do you find your niche as a writer?

Good question.

Short answer: I don’t know.

No, that’s not really true.  But I do sometimes bill myself as a "Renaissance writer in a niche world," so you might now want to trust anything I say on this topic.  I got that whole Renaissance writer thing from my on-again, off-again (its currently off unless one of you wants to hire me) career as a copywriter.   The topics I covered in writing copy varied wildly, from roof racks to Voodoo to kitchen remodeling to spiritual leaders. 

So it seems to me that a copywriter needs to become a quick study and have the ability to learn about a topic rapidly.  However, I am also keenly aware that most marketing experts recommend niching (is that a word?) ourselves.  That, though it seems counter-intuitive, making yourself an expert in one small area will gain you more credibility and sales than being a generalist.

I have a bit of a specialty in art writing.  I’ve written catalog copy for a private art college, copy for internet sites, and tons of features on art and artists.  However, if I relied solely on my art writing to make a living, I’d starve.  (Not that just the wee-est bit of starving would hurt me, mind you.)

I do think the essence of being a writer is curiosity, and it seems to me that any good writer worth her salt should have enough basic curiosity about most topics to be able to learn enough to write about it.  And while you may want to specialize in a certain niche, don’t be afraid to cast your net farther if need be.

Now, what about the different genres of writing?  Should you specialize in non-fiction, or fiction, or screenwriting, or what?

Here’s the deal: though it pains me to say this, it is very hard to make a living at writing fiction.  So most of us whose reason for getting up in the morning is working on a novel also master non-fiction.   The truth is, with few exceptions, I’d rather be writing than doing anything else for pay, so it has behooved (I love that word) me to find non-fiction markets for my work.  I would love nothing more than to be able to write novels and blog for a living, and I do hope that the day I can do that is not far off.  But it is not quite here yet.

So, if you are looking to find a niche in a subject area, start by making lists.  What are you passionate about?  What do you obsess about?  What do you spend most of your time discussing with friends?  What are your secret desires?  What and who do you hate?  What scares you? Make these lists fast and don’t think about them, just write.  Then go back over them and see if anything pops up more than once.  If so, there’s your subject.  If not, choose five things from the lists and write as fast as you can, ten topics you could write about under each one.  That ought to give you an idea which subject is fertile ground for you.  You can repeat this as often as necessary.  Its also a great idea generator for stories and characters.

If you are looking for a niche in genre, my advice is simple: what do you read?  Do you love novels?  Do you inhale literary non-fiction?  Are you one of the few and blessed people who buy and read poetry? Or would you much prefer to go see a movie than read a book?  Do you read your daily newspaper and the Sunday Times cover to cover? 

Odds are good that you’ll find your genre niche as close as your reading pile.  The movie-goer clearly needs to be writing screenplays, and the newspaper reader might want to consider becoming a stringer (which is pretty easy to do and can lead big places–for instance, Mary Roach, author of Stiff, started out stringing for "shoppers" the advertorial sections that often accompany your daily paper).  The novel reader should write novels and so forth.

Please, if anyone has any comments on this topic, chime in.  I’d love to hear how others have niched themselves and how it is working for you.  And thank you, Nag, for the topic.

A New Lit Magazine and Some Odds and Ends

A new literary magazine that you should check out is debuting soon.  It is called Knockout, and I got an email from the editor, Brett Ortler, telling me about it.  The first issue, due out in in October, is devoted to poetry, and as far as I’m concerned none of us can ever do enough to support poets. 

Poets are the true wordsmiths in our society and they do it all for little respect and less money.   Knockout has National Book Award winners, former poet laureates, and unpublished poets in the first issue.

The other great thing Brett is doing is donating half the money from the first issue to Sudanese relief organizations.  Cool, huh?

So go here and subscribe, or at least buy an issue.  I’m going to.

In the odds and ends department, next week is September, in case you didn’t know, and I’m feeling like the long, slow, dog days of summer will come to an abrupt halt and it will time to ramp everything up again.  Really?  Yes, really.

So, in terms of ramping up the blog, I’ve been thinking about doing another series.  Does anyone have any particular writing topics they would like addressed?  Oh, and what about writing exercises–yay or nay?

Just asking.

Another Award!

Inspirationalbloggerawardblack_244x

This is the coolest thing.  Walksfarwoman, at Kissing the Dogwood has awarded me the Inspirational Blogger Award!

Walksfarwoman has a gorgeous site and you should visit and read her philosophy page after you find out who I have given these awards to.  Oh, and before I forget these awards are the inspiration of Christy Z at Writer’s Reviews.   You can read about the Writer’s Review Inspiration Awards on this post.

Inspirationalbloggerawardblack_24_2

Just had to put the award button in again, because it looks so cool, and I want to bathe in its glow a bit longer.  Ahhhh…….

Okay, I’m here, really I am.  And now, of course, after thoroughly basking in my glory, it is my honor to pass the award on to five other bloggers.  This is the fun part!  And the really hard part, too.  I’ve met so many amazing bloggers in the last couple months, especially on Blog Catalog. 

As you will see if you read Christy’s post about the award, it is really comprised of several different awards, which I can pass on at my discretion.  So, here goes:

Creativebloggerawardblack_215x38

The Creative Blogger Award goes to ShirleyTwoFeathers at Mandala Madness.  Shirley maintains not one, not two, but five, count ’em, five blogs.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  Mandala Madness is my fav, though, and it is full of beautiful images and good info.  Go download her Cosmic Chalice image for your desktop wallpaper.  Go, now. We’ll wait for you.

Back now and ready for the next one?

Inspirationalbloggerawardblack_24_3

An Inspirational Blogger Award to Karen Mason at Nameless Grace, because she so beautifully publishes the stories of other writers, and because she is bent on world domination through her Starfire World Syndicate network.  Oh yeah, and she also has this great blog on dogs, which I love even if she doesn’t have any pictures of pugs on it.

Thoughtfulbloggerawardblack_242x41

A Thoughtful Blogger Award to Kim Darrell, who also maintains multiple blogs, including Life’s Like That, and Thinking Outloud, because she spends hours doing reviews of other blogs and sometimes people don’t even thank her for it.  So here’s a huge thank you in the form of an award, Kim!

Thoughtfulbloggerawardblack_242x4_2

Another Thoughtful Blogger Award to the wonderful and amazing Renny at Renny BA’s Terella, the most wonderful and amazing blog about Norway.  A friend just visited Norway and said it was much like the gorgeous country we have here in the Pacific Northwest, so maybe that is why I like to hang out at Renny’s blog so much.  But it’s also because he is a thoughtful and helpful blogger, who told me about the Blogging to Fame site, and also once looked up how many Jensens (because it is my mother’s maiden name) there are in the Scandanavian countries!  Now that is thoughtful. 

While we are giving Renny an award, let’s hop on over to the Blogging to Fame site and vote for him, shall we?

Done with the voting and ready for the last award?

Inspirationalbloggerawardblack_24_4

Another Inspirational Blogger Award to Vienne (don’t you just love that name?) at Eavesdrop Writer.   She is so cool that she already got the Creative Blogger variation of this award.  But I just had to give her another, because this is the best idea for a writing blog ever.  It’s full of ideas and inspirations, all from things that Vienne has overheard.  Plus, she’s been great about supporting me, doing nice things like listing me as one of her favorite blogs in a Blog Catalog discussion.  So go read her blog right now!

Be sure to go check out every single one of these blogs, because they are all worthy of your time and energy. 

Perhaps All Writers Should Move to England, Where We Will Get the Respect We Deserve

Back from vacation, trying to pull myself out of the deep pit of relaxation induced by long strolls on the sand and much gazing at wave action, I found myself aimlessly surfing the net (of course, I never, EVER, aimlessly surf the internet normally, oh, no).  And what should I find but the most charming statistic about the lovely British:

"According to a new poll, author tops the list of dream jobs for us Britons, with 10% of us hoping to become one." 

God, do we love those Brits or what?

Can you imagine what we Americans would most want to be?  I shudder to think.  Probably a rock star or a NASCAR driver.  Not that I have anything against either profession, mind you.   I just think it is so damn cool that the English admire authors so much.

By the way, in my endless effort to aimlessly surf the net, I mean entertain you, I found the above link to the Rock Star Name site, where you can enter your real name and receive your rock star name in return.

So from now on, just call me Trixie Stone.  Take that, Brits.

Oh, and double by the way, stay tuned to this very blog tomorrow for a very cool announcement.  It is something that has been in the works (read: on hold) for an entire week and being on vacation had nothing to do with it. 

Not one thing, says Trixie.

Publication!

Clearly I am still at the beach, as I’ve not done much in the way of posting the last few days.  It is just soooooo relaxing down here.  I haven’t sunk this deeply into relaxation in, well, several years–since the last time we spent a week here. 

Believe it or not, I’ve only been checking my email once or twice a day.  Okay, maybe three times.  But, still.  C’mon, for me, that is amazing.

It is lucky for me that I am checking messages because the wonderful Karen Mason informed me today that she just posted one of my stories on her blog!

The story is called In The Yucatan, and it is one of my favorites.  You can go read it here.  Please do!  And thank Karen while you are at it.  She is amazing and wonderful and doing great things with publishing the work of others.

Thanks, Karen!

And I promise I’ll return to the regularly scheduled programming soon.  Really, really soon.  As soon as I get away from the force field of doing nothing here at the Oregon Coast.

Writing at the Beach

I’m heading to the beach today, with my family, my sister and her family, and my 90-year-old mother, who gets around way more than most 90-year-olds.  She was in Seattle with us last weekend and we took her to San Jose a couple months ago.  She’s pretty amazing.

Anyway, we’re heading to Arch Cape, Oregon.   For years and years and years we had an annual beach vacation, but we’ve not done it the last couple years.  So everyone is really looking forward to it.  Now let me publicly state that the house has internet access.  Which means that I will continue blogging all next week.  Oh, and I’m also planning on working on my novel.  I like to get up early and write, especially at the beach.  But I really, really like it when I get up early and my beloved nephew Luke gets up and I ditch the writing and we go walk on the beach together and look at tidepools instead.

Cannon_beach_02Here is a photo of Haystack Rock, which is located at Cannon Beach, a little north of where we are staying.  Cannon Beach is an artsy, tourist town, fun to visit and go shopping and so forth.  Arch Cape is all residential except for the Arch Cape Grocery and Deli, where they make out of this world cinnamon rolls and cheese bread.  After being thus fortified, my sister and I are going to walk from Arch Cape to Cannon Beach, which is a trudge of about seven miles.  I may be exagerrating, but not much.  None of the other lame-os in the family have thus far agreed to walk with us, since they all did it a few years ago and whined all the way. 

I think I’ll deserve a prize should I actually get any work on my novel done, don’t you?

Image from wikipedia, used under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2

Guest Post at The Golden Pencil

The thought occurs to me that in my rush to get organized to go on vacation tomorrow (I’m taking my computer as I cannot live without being connected to the internet and the blogosphere) and get all my work done, I failed to mention my guest post over at The Golden Pencil.

Duh.

The Golden Pencil is Anne Wayman’s blog, which is connected to her site on writing.  She is one of my best sources for freelance writing jobs on the internet, and you can sign up for her daily emails that list the jobs.  Its a great resource, and she does it all for free.

My guest post appeared on Thursday, and it is about sending out ships–or, in other words, replying to ads and sending out queries and submissions as often as possible.  You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find it now, but the thing is, Anne has other great bloggers doing guest posts also and they are all worth reading.

Thanks to Anne for allowing me a bit of time on her blog!

The Weight of Things

No, this isn’t a post about diets (though if anyone has a good one, let me know).  It’s about giving events in your novel or story the proper weight. 

Not everything that happens to your character will be weighted the same.  For instance, giving birth to a baby should have more significance than eating breakfast.  Or finding your long-lost sister should be more important than arriving at work in the morning.

I think of it in terms of two different friends of mine, both of whom shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.  One of them, who I’ll call Mary, has a flat-line personality.   Steady as she goes!  Mary talks in the same tone, rarely laughs uproariously, and certainly never cries.  Her personal affect is all on the same level.

The friend I’ll call Sarah, on the other hand is alternately loud and quiet, joyfully happy or seriously depressed.  She laughs loudly and often, and sobs at other times.  She’ll screech with joy upon seeing you after a separation, and just as likely scream at you in frustration.

Now, you may prefer to be friends with Mary, but I’ll take Sarah any day, even if she is a bit high maintenance and exhausting.  Sarah’s life is properly weighted, you see.  She reacts to the various events in her life, as opposed to just trudging along.

And this is the same way I feel about fiction.  Writing scenes in fiction is about handling multiple characters and multiple events.  And as the writer struggles to manage it all, its very easy to get caught in a sort of flat-line mode.  Then marrying the love of your life is given equal importance to retrieving the mail for the day. 

I understand this problem very well because I struggle with it all the time.   At the moment, I’m finishing up the last few chapters of the second draft of my novel, and a lot of things need to be tied up.  So lots is happening, and when I read back over my chapters, I see that I’m guilty of lending it all equal weight in my efforts to get everything in.

How to solve this problem?

Make a list of everything that happens in the chapter and give it a ranking.  I do this mentally, but you can do it on paper.  What’s the most important thing?  Assign it a 1, or an A, and go on through the list. 

Then consider how you will present the most important thing.  You’ll probably want to give it a scene, rather than exposition, for starters.  And it may affect more than one of your characters.  Your main character will no doubt be pondering the meaning of this event for at least another chapter, if not more, perhaps while she is engaging in a less important event.  And, of course, this Very Important Event will also likely be the cause of other events.

Being aware of the weight of things and writing accordingly is a key to crafting good fiction.

Things to Avoid in Writing: Expositional Dialogue

Today, class, we shall talk about dialogue.  More specifically, expositional dialogue.  What’s expositional dialogue, you say?  Well gather round while we discuss it.

Even if you don’t know it by the fancy name I used for it, you are no doubt familiar with it.  When you are reading a novel and the characters start telling each other things they would obviously know for the sake of revealing the information to the reader, like this:

Mother:  "When I had you on April 20, 1992, you were the cutest baby I ever saw.  I just don’t know what happened."

Daughter: "You know, mother, my life changed when Dad walked out on us.  Now all I want to do is smoke pot and watch TV all day long."

That is expositional dialogue.  I exaggerate, but you get the point.  Obviously, when the mother mentions her daughter’s birthdate, it is information her daughter already knows.  And when the daughter replies with choice bits about her own life, it is, again, information her mother knows. 

Expositional dialogue makes readers groan.  Avoid it.  Usually expositional dialogue is a lot less obvious than the above example.  Writers sometimes use it unwittingly in their never-ending efforts to show, not tell, so the impulse behind it is pure.

I was reminded of the issue of informational dialogue when reading a post on Trashionista, which gives a great example of it here.

Another Great Blogger

One of the things I am consistently amazed about is how positive and supportive the blogosphere is.  Over and over again, I meet other bloggers who are willing to go out of their way to help each other.  The best community, as far as I am concerned, is Blog Catalog, but there are plenty of other good ones as well.

One of the awesome bloggers from Blog Catalog, Kim Darrell, runs five, count ’em, five blogs.  You can read one of them here.   But don’t go there quite yet, because first you want to hop on over here and read all the nice things she said about little ole moi!

Thanks, Kim!  You’re the best.