When new writers ask me how to find success, I often advise them to sit down and think about their goals. While I do still believe this is sound advice, some writers may benefit from taking even one more step back to ask themselves: Am I a specialist or a generalist? Knowing the answer to this question may help many writers set the right goals.
Am I a generalist?
Are you the type of person who wants to know everything about everything? Do you get bored in the middle of long projects? Do you seek out new challenges?
If so, then you're likely more of a generalist than a specialist. Generalists are well equipped for shorter projects, because they have the ability to shift gears constantly. While they can write books too, generalists are usually ready to move on to the next assignment (and the assignment after that).
Great markets for generalists include articles for online and print publications, copywriting, short-term professional and technical writing, poetry, short fiction, and blogging.
Am I a specialist?
Are you the type of person who really likes to know everything about one subject? Do you get tunnel vision when you're researching that subject? Are you sometimes accused of being obsessed?
Then, my friend, you may be a specialist. Some specialists have formal training on their subject; others find it through personal experience or investigation. Specialists usually have what it takes to dig deep into a subject and to keep digging. The hurdle for specialists is often learning how to share that deep information with your audience, especially if you're writing for a more general audience.
Great markets for specialists include columns for online and print publications, big professional and technical writing projects, novels, nonfiction books, and blogging (on a specific subject, of course).
Which is better?
Most people have a little generalist and specialist in them, so making a decision about which path to take isn't always easy. Plus, I feel that even generalists should try to pick niches for their work--just to help them develop long-lasting professional relationships and opportunities. That said, I don't think one is better than the other.
Specialists can often demand more money on a project, but the direct competition with other specialists can make the stakes of landing a project higher than for a generalist. It's also worth noting that specialists put all their eggs in one basket. If something happens to the basket, there ain't no eggs.
Meanwhile, generalists have a more diversified approach, but they run the risk of continually chasing the next assignment or job. It can be tough work without the recognition that specialists may receive in their fields. Generalists often can struggle with maintaining a steady revenue stream.
So which one are you?
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