How to Be a Writer: choosing your specialty as a writer

Guest post by Betty Zhang

Have you been madly in love with the written word ever since you first discovered a blank piece of paper and a pen? Do you have that journalistic instinct? That drive to have your words published? Congratulations: you’ve decided to become a writer. Now what?

Luckily for you, most print and digital publications need passionate writers who specialize in content like arts and culture, entertainment, food, travel, sports, finance, and so on. This means all you’ve got to do is work out which beats to cover as a writer. Don’t panic—it’s easy peasy.

Here’s a handy guide to help you:

1. Identify your interests

What are your passions, hobbies, and interests? Which topic(s) do you know most about? Consider things like your lifelong obsessions, favorite high school subjects, university majors and leisure activities. For example, are you a celebrity connoisseur who never fails to keep up with the Kardashians, a tech expert with a degree in IT, or a sports fanatic who knows the game and the players better than the commentators?

Write about the things you’re interested in and what you love to learn about; this way you’ll always be effortlessly up to date with the latest news and trends. Plus, creating content about topics of interest is much quicker and easier than having to delve into something you barely know.

2. Find your niche

Every writer has a niche or area of expertise, be it entertainment, business, sports, or something else. To find yours, pinpoint what you’re good at writing about and see where your strength in writing lies.

Think about what you’ve written before. Loved covering the latest gigs on campus? Or did you enjoy writing weekly restaurant reviews for that blog? Keep in mind that you don’t have to narrow it down to just one particular area, though the more specific knowledge you acquire in your field the better. You can choose to write about several, especially since some are linked. Arts and culture, for instance, can cover everything from visual art and design to theatre productions and films, depending on the publication.

Additionally, consider what you’re good at writing about regardless of your passion for it. Maybe you’re a fantastic writer where finance is concerned, despite it not being your biggest interest. This broadens your opportunities when looking for work. Keep in mind that writing is a constant and continuous process of learning and self-discovery whereby your areas of strength will become clearer the more you write.

3. Find your voice

A writer’s voice is an author’s personality on the page (or glowing screen). It’s important to find your voice if you want to be a pro.

It’s also important to note that different articles require different tones and styles, and it’s your job to still keep your voice as a writer. In terms of style, are you better at writing factual and formal pieces that clearly lays out the facts to the reader or are you better at writing devilishly funny essays that’ll have the reader rolling on the floor laughing? For example, an eloquent long-form review of The Imitation Game for The Washington Post requires different skills than captioning GIFs of Benedict Cumberbatch for a blog.

Finding your writer’s voice takes practice—in writing and reading—and once you’ve mastered it, you’ll need to learn how to stay flexible. Your writing needs to adopt the tone and style of other publications and brands in order to capture their brand’s voice. Pick your battles and fight the good fight, but know that a pro writer is one who can adapt style, tone, and even your own voice.

Remember: the best style is versatile.

4. Learn about relevant publications

Ingenious flexibility aside, the important thing to know is that your topic(s) of expertise and writing style not only determines the beats you can cover as a writer but also the publications you can write for.

Speaking of which, what kind of publications do you dream of writing for? Comprehensive news magazines like TIME and The New Yorker? Fashion, beauty, and lifestyle publications like Vogue, perhaps? A satirical news site like The Onion? A smaller, humor magazine like The Toast? Or is it a wacky pop culture site like SugarScape?

Whatever it is, learning about the publication you’re going for is crucial because it helps you to work out your niche. If you fancy writing for a certain publication, get to know its history, ownership, editors, team of contributors, and more by stalking them online.

5. Check out other writers

It’s also incredibly helpful to look at what other writers are doing when you’re trying to figure out your specialty. While browsing online publications, take note of writers whose articles align with your interests. Read their bios for an outline of their specialty area(s) and the publications to which they contribute. If a particular writer piques your interest, search for their online identities to take a further look at what they do and what they like. This will give you an idea of what to aim for and expect when you begin to look for work as a writer.

Now that you know what to do, why not start brainstorming your interests or hop online to get inspired? Over to you, wordsmith!

5 Unusual Specialties To Consider As A Writer

By Betty Zhang

Take a look at these rather unusual specialties. One of them might just be your true calling. 

  • Parenting

    By Betty Zhang

    Parenting writers shed light on the ins and outs of child-rearing (including babies, toddlers and teens); they mainly write for print and online magazines dedicated to the subject matter. 

  • Media Law

    By Betty Zhang

    Writers are experts in legal regulations concerning telecommunications, IT, broadcasting, advertising, entertainment, censorship, the internet & online services. They work for major publications. 

  • Video Game

    By Betty Zhang

    Journalists who specialise in this area review and discuss video games for gaming magazines, online publications, blogs and more. They're enthusiastic about and experienced with playing video games. 

  • Medicine

    By Betty Zhang

    Medical writers specialise in communicating complex data and information about diseases and drugs in a clear and concise way; they work for companies, journals, publishers and researchers.

  • Food

    By Betty Zhang

    Being a food writer requires expert knowledge about cooking, cuisines, ingredients, nutrition and more. Food writers contribute to both culinary-based and comprehensive publications, online and off.

Image: James Wheeler/Flickr

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