Should writers specialize?

Spinning off last week’s terrific guest post by Wendee Holtcamp about how to break into “green” magazines — a specialized niche if ever there was one — it seems a lot of writers lately have been debating the essential question of whether to specialize at all.

Specializing doesn’t necessarily mean you write about only one subject area. I’ve seen writer’s bios saying they “specialize” in about seven things, ranging from technology to parenting to food writing, and wondered how their background and expertise could possibly span such divergent topics. Nevertheless, it’s a personal choice to specialize your writing abilities, whether that means one topic or 10. Only you can decide.

Awhile back, around the time I realized it would be wise to transition from print to online writing, I also decided I really wanted to be a health writer. I’m what I call a health news junkie, and looking back even to early childhood, I always was. I remember eagerly opening the Reader’s Digest each month and quickly flipping to the action-packed narratives about people’s health crises, lapping up the medical lingo and details others might find tedious. To me, it was fascinating. (Geeky? Yeah, but I own it now.)

This was more of an impulse than a decision. It felt natural, and so was my decision to specialize in health. It seemed the ideal melding between my years dissecting cow eyeballs and cats (yes, I really dissected a cat) and my eventual foray into writing. The perfect blend, as they say.

Specializing brings other rewards as well. Health writing tends to pay a bit better (and sometimes, a great deal better) because people like me need to know — and be able to seamlessly translate — minutiae about anatomy, diseases, treatments and a lot more. What’s the difference between MS and Lou Gherig’s disease? Or laparoscopy and da Vinci surgery? It’s my business to tell readers without confusing them, and ideally to entertain them in the process.

Some writers have blogs that perfectly reflect their niches: Kelly James-Enger’s “Dollars and Deadlines” [http://dollars anddeadlines.blogspot.com] and Meagan Francis’ “The Happiest Mom” [http://thehappiestmom.com] are two of my favorites. In a nutshell, Kelly writes about writing and Meagan writes about mothering, but if you take a peek at their blogs you’ll quickly see that it’s not as simple as all that. Each of them bring their specialties alive in a way that’s enlightening and educational and makes you want to come back for more.

That’s why I specialize — because health writing never grows stale for me, and if I do my job right, my writing won’t be stale to those reading it. But not every writer agrees that specializing is either smart or necessary. What do you think?

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About writearounditall

Welcome to Write Around It All. I’m Maureen Salamon, a freelance health & lifestyle writer who was a WAHM before WAHM was part of the vernacular. Four kids later, my days are a crazy cocktail of research, laundry, interviews, carpools, writing, errands and deadlines. I have it all, do it all and appreciate it all — most days. View all posts by writearounditall

One response to “Should writers specialize?

  • Meagan @ The Happiest Mom

    Thanks for the shout-out, Maureen! I struggled with the question: To specialize or not to specialize? for the first few years of freelancing. I felt that I had such diverse interests: mind/body wellness, psychology, relationships, parenting…but then I figured out a way to put them all together by writing about those things from a mother’s perspective. It’s helped me keep from spinning my wheels and given me a lot of focus, which I need. Plus it helps cement you in editors’ heads as “the writer who does ____” so when they need that done, they come calling!

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