I see a lot of advice that urges people to write what they know and in a niche they’re familiar with. However, I do the opposite. I write across various niches and a plethora of topics. I go against the grain, and there are pros and cons to doing so: People who are my loyal readers have no idea what to expect in my next article. I wonder sometimes whether I’m shooting myself in the foot by not having that consistency.
But that’s part of the beauty, isn’t it? Writing across various niches puts my readers out of their comfort zone, but above all, it puts me out of my comfort zone. Some people like predictability, while others embrace the unpredictability.
A lot of people ask me how I know so much. The truth is I don’t. Some articles, before I write them, involve significant research on a topic. The research is always a learning experience for me. The writing is always an experience where I have fun and learn. It’s more about the experience of writing than about the checklist task at the end of the day.
Just because you know nothing about something doesn’t mean you can’t write about it. And research helps you learn and build credibility in something you’re inherently not knowledgable about. You don’t have to be a historian to write about history. You don’t have to be a licensed psychologist to write about psychology and mental health.
But when you don’t have the credibility, you have to learn yourself. No one wants to read too much about someone’s personal speculation about finances, stocks, or cryptocurrency, especially if they’re an amateur. However, if it’s clear that you’ve done your research, you’re more credible, even if you’re not an expert.
Personal experience has credibility because, well, you experienced it. But a personal essay is a genre where it’s difficult for others to extrapolate from your experience. What worked for you in overcoming trauma, for example, probably isn’t a one-size fix-all for everyone. The “this worked for me and it’ll work for you” type of advice is slowly but surely becoming another pet peeve of mine.
As for staying in one niche, here’s the thing about the problem with restraint: You’ll never be an expert on everything. There will always be someone smarter than you, better than you, and more accomplished than you. Within my sphere of runners, I’m slow. I have many friends that have broken 15 minutes in the 5k, and I haven’t (15:36)— that’s the bar that I compare myself to. But does that stop me from writing about running? No.
As a person, you’re not one-dimensional, so why follow advice across the internet on why you should be a one-dimensional writer?
Writing across multiple niches is a sign of growth. It’s a sign of a willingness to experiment. I would not have done nearly as well as a writer if I didn’t experiment with satire, or delve into researching true crime and history, or start writing more personal essays. These are experiments that have only been beneficial for me because I knew that there was no harm in trying to experiment. After all, what is there to lose?
For example, I know absolutely nothing about cryptocurrency. I’ve invested in Bitcoin once or twice and made money out of sheer luck, but I know nothing. That’s not going to stop me from writing about it and learning more.
And then there’s this perception that everyone only wants to read something written by the experts. But that’s not true. In some fields, especially American politics, distrust of experts is pretty high. Of course, that distrust comes often with a mixed connotation in politics, but every field has an establishment and gatekeepers. Take religious experts — it’s difficult to trust the Church when it’s mired in scandals and reckonings.
And so the writing world would do better with more opinions from people who aren’t experts and aren’t gatekeepers. People are different, and there’s a variety of opinions and perceptions in any field. Some people say that democracy is not a good thing because it promotes tyranny by mob rule and the majority, but in a marketplace of written content, I believe democracy is a good thing.
We shouldn’t treat readers like children. Push outside your comfort zone and write about things you’re not the most comfortable with because it offers you a window into a new world of writers and readers. Not only does it diversify your writing and content, but it helps you network with an audience that previously didn’t engage with you, as well as with writers and editors that previously didn’t engage.
I hear advice all the time to avoid politics and religion, but I have largely ignored it when I write. I have had people use every profanity in the playbook in negative comments about my stances on both topics. But because I write across a variety of niches, some of those people would read a piece on another topic, like a satire, and say, “Wow! This was really funny!”
It baffled me that they didn’t realize I was the exact same person they cursed out two days ago on the internet, but it taught me one thing: There is a population of readers who don’t care who the author is. They care about the product and the content. For a lot of people, the product matters more than the packaging and the brand, and always does and always will.
When I write across various niches, I strike out. A lot. I make mistakes. I err on the side of caution more when I know little about business, finance, or the economy. I’ll try and do it on occasion, but I tend not to because those aren’t topics I’m particularly passionate about.
I still want to say that most of my success here has been attributed to luck, but writing and diversifying my work has been very helpful. And it’s helped me grow my confidence as a writer. I never thought I would write satire, and then I did. I never thought I’d write about history, and I did. For what I don’t know and can’t discover through research, I try to be upfront and tell my readers.
If you don’t know something, restraint is not always the best policy. Diving into that unknown is.
Originally published on September 25, 2020 on The Partnered Pen.