Finding your writing niche

Writing is like growing up. From babyhood, we learn to crawl (= write junk), wobble half-upright (= write a little less junk), walk in spurts (= write much less junk), run a little (= write more of what really is us), and finally gain balance to walk and run at will (= write in our true voice).

In life, if we could jump into adulthood from childhood or even early adolescence without living through each previous stage, we’d save much time and angst. In writing too, imagine learning enough from watching, reading, and hearing about others’ experiences, mistakes, misguided decisions, and failings so we wouldn’t have to experience them at all. But, unfortunately or fortunately, we have to experience it all.

What Kind of Writer Are You?

So, developing your writing niche requires, first, the same kind of trial-and-error learning and perseverance as crawling, walking, and running. The learning means continuous self-exploration, risk-taking, and careful attention to discovering your true preferences and passions as a writer—and admitting them.

Two Types of Writers

James Scott Bell in The Art of War for Writers tells of a writer who “chose his genre by pure market calculation. And it worked for him” (p. 62). Bell comments by quoting David Morrell, bestselling intrigue/thriller novelist: Morrell is “not constituted to be” the current-market-calculating, practical writer. He can write only, as Bell says, “when there is something (an ‘inner ferret,’ he calls it) gnawing at him, something that needs expression from the deepest part of himself” (p. 62).

The Passionate Inward Writer

Are you a writer who, like Morrell (and I’m sure, Bell), must write what you are led to and fervent about? What swells up from inside and cannot be denied, even through years of distractions? Does the unwritten article, essay, poem positively call to you, almost harangue you?  Do you feel what Julia Cameron describes in The Artist’s Way?

If I have a poem [or essay, story, or novel] to write, I need to write that poem . . . . I need to create what wants to be created. I cannot plan a career to unfold in a sensible direction dictated by cash flow and marketing strategies. (p.180)

If you are the passionate type, you write, write, write, and then look for markets. You may make money, often don’t, accept that condition, and generally engage in other income-producing work.

The Practical Outward Writer

Or do you love to write anything, and will—from academic articles and texts to corporate newsletters to trade manuals to news stories to profiles and even to short stories?  Are you turned on by matching your talent to the paychecks, the bigger the better? Do you crave to get published by Wiley or Pearson or a prestigious academic journal? Or get into Oprah Magazine, GQ, Scientific American, Esquire, Technorati, Sommeliers’ Grapevine? Gastroenterologists’ Digest? And you look forward to plunging into planning, researching, and grinding out as much as is required?

If you are this type, look for markets that need writers. Study the books and articles in magazines and entries in blogs. Write to the editors. The topics may or may not overlap with your general interests, but as long as you’re writing, you don’t mind. With practice and diligence, you’ll become a proficient and reliable freelance writer, often make good money, gain a reputation as reliable, and attract invitations to write more.

Uncover Your Niche

What are you passionate about? What must you write about? What writing projects make you so excited that even though you’re bone-weary you can hardly fall asleep. When you do, you awake spontaneously at first light, rarin’ to commune with your mouse.

Of course, writers of the two types we just talked about, and many variations along the continuum, find their niche(s) based on their likes and passions. Of course, you can have more than one niche. Longtime freelancer Kelly James-Enger, a personal trainer as well as writer, specializes in subjects involving health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition, as well as writing craft and informational articles. Christina Hamlett, playwright, columnist, and consultant, concentrates on writing and producing plays especially for teenage production, personal essays, and helping writers with wise how-tos. Jennifer Brown Banks writes columns in her own writers’ blog and on a wide range of subjects for many other blogs and newsletters, as well as lovely poems. Jane McBride Choate publishes adult romances, stories for adults and children, and many writing craft pieces.

The Two Sides, Not Necessarily Warring

Although I’m the “passionate” inward type and write in several niches, as I’ve produced more I’ve become familiar with various markets for my types of writing. In the more “practical” mode, I sometimes write queries or pieces with these markets in mind.
If you discover, as I have, that you also warm to the so-called opposite engine for writing (passionate vs. practical), your creativity is additionally sparked in both. And taking breaks from one type to the other fuels and refreshes you further.

So, reflect on the major kind of writer you are. Especially when you have limited time to write, what gives you the greatest glow? As Bill Kenower says in his Author Magazine editor’s blog, “Choose the stories [and articles] that serve your life rather than serving some story that someone chose for you” (August 15, 2018).

Follow the Signs to Your Niche

To discover and develop your niche(s) through your writing, some help:

  1. Who and what did you read, wallow in, escape to as a kid?
  2. When you have time to read now (sure), do you choose these same authors and genres, or others?
  3. Do you feel an aching admiration for the authors you read and wish wish wish to write like them?
  4. Do you get a special kick out of writing on certain subjects and genres?
  5. Do other people compliment your writing in certain subjects and genres?
  6. Are you getting accepted, more and more, in certain subjects and genres?
  7. Do you want to write more in these?

Your answers are all clues and signs to your beckoning niche. Heed them.

No Excuses

Once you find your niche(s), don’t use the old defense for not writing that the field is too crowded. This kind of “Yes, but . . .” dampens your newfound ardor and shuts down your motivation. Instead, look at all the successful people and others coming up. Look at all the emerging textbook writers. All the writers on writers’ craft, on fashion, fitness, and fad diets. All the novelists, self-help authors, columnists, and poets. What does this tell you? That in every field and subfield there’s always room for someone good. Remember and repeat.

A Brand New Niche

You may even invent a new niche. Who ever heard of chicklit until a few years ago? Or paranormal romance? Or scandalous nanny tell-alls? Or fashionista fantasies? Or spy chefs and secret-ingredient agents? Or nuns with guns? Or Caribbean time-sharing vampires? (Sorry, I got carried away.)

Your Niche is Calling You

Above all (and I repeat), write what you feel fervent about, whether passionate or practical. Don’t write primarily what you think you should write, what’s selling if you’re not passionate about it, or what another author is writing and selling. If you don’t follow your writing bliss, your lukewarmness will come through, despite your most dazzling wordplay.

Whatever your subject and genre, write in your most honest and open self. No one else can or will write like you. As you crawl, walk, and run, with pen to paper and fingers to keyboard, you’ll identify, develop, master, and command your niche.

© 2019 Noelle Sterne


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and motivational counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 600 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Following one of her own, she is currently working on her second novel. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com