Specialize Today, Branch Out Tomorrow

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101:

By Christina Katz

If you really wanted to, I’d be willing to bet that you could discover a writing specialty for yourself that is as natural to you as the entelechy of an acorn, which eventually unfurls itself into a mighty oak. Author Jean Houston first planted the idea of entelechy in my head (pun intended). And it’s a good metaphor for the process many writers experience in finding and following a specialty. Here’s why: finding a specialty can sound limiting, even myopic, until you realize that the many opportunities to “branch out” are ample and yet to come.

Once you understand how to stay on a single path, as a writer you can find your groove. That’s when constructive practices start to become habits. Still many creative-minded people have a natural aversion to any suggestion that smacks of redundancy or repetition or—to steal another phrase from Jean Houston—that smacks of “serial monotony.”

But if you don’t specialize, it’s harder to get your writing career off the ground and up into the sky. Why? Because a specialist concentrates his or her writing efforts on filling a specific niche, or targets a particular market, such as writing for pet, health, or parenting publications. For example, if you are a gardener and you write for gardening publications, garden writing can become a specialty for you. As you go along, you might find more opportunities within this niche like writing profiles, personal essays, articles, fillers or collections of tips. You may amass a goodly amount of clips until you have enough material generated to propose a book idea. The topic of every book you write becomes another specialty to add to your repertoire.

Or perhaps your career is further along—not an acorn but a sprout, a sapling, or even a tree with sprawling roots—in this case, you may find that narrowing your focus on a specialty can expand the career you already have at a faster clip than if you do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. By finding your rhythm, your groove, your whatever works, you’ll reduce the amount of preparation and research you conduct each time you approach your work. So whether you’re zeroing in on one genre (poetry, fiction or non-fiction) or one type of market to write for repeatedly, you’ll begin to notice a subtle increase in momentum. You will feel it, even if it is not apparent to anyone else– an awareness that you are on the right track.

If you don’t immediately strike upon a path that feels integrated with your natural rhythms, don’t worry! You’ll hone in on one eventually. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have your specialty all figured out from the start; you simply need to become willing to take a step or two in the direction of an inner calling. And then hang in there; even when the going feels right, things may get bumpy as you write your way down the road. Growth is, generally speaking, messy. Abandon any ideals of perfection and the ride will be much more enjoyable.

When uncertain about how to specialize, take a step in an alluring direction and see how it pans out. Once you get busy, you may be amazed at how quickly opportunities for growth and publication rush in to meet you halfway. Branch out in your mind. Loosen your vice-grip on the way you think everything should unfold for your writing career. Your process knows what to do; your job is not to steer the course too rigidly, but to dare to venture out into thin air. You will learn to trust the thickening solidity of your career as you drive your roots down deeper to sustain your reach. Like the tree, you can’t go higher unless you root deeper.

Here are a few books that can help you develop a specialty that suits you:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Tarcher/Putnam 1992) explores multiple art forms to find inner direction.

A Life in the Arts by Eric Maisel (Tarcher/Putnam 1992) describes in workbook form how to integrate your personality with a workable writing career.

Ready, Aim, Specialize by Kelly James-Enger (The Writer Books 2003) helps non-fiction writers choose a profitable direction.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

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