Generalist or Specialist: Where Do You Fit?

What’s your opinion on being a specialist versus a generalist?

Do you think it’s best for a writer to focus in a single area or subject of interest and have a honed knowledge, or are there more opportunities for a writer who can write about anything and everything?

It’s a common quandry that all writers need to answer at least once. I find myself considering the options a couple times a year.

I admit to hearing more often than not that it’s beneficial for a writer to focus only 1 or 2 areas from the get-go — that becoming an expert in an area (or a couple areas) can lead to the most successful career.

The exceptions are journalists — and possibly ghost writers — who can make a living writing about a wide variety of topics.

Focusing on a single area and developing an expertise enables you to develop your platform as a writer.

And then once you have that platform established and start getting known for a particular area, writing opportunities within that area will find their way to you.

I admit it’s exciting to have work coming to you through different avenues rather than having to seek work out.

I haven’t selected a particular niche or area of expertise, probably because I’ve always enjoyed variety and have several years in journalism. I still enjoy trying different types of writing and learning about new products and technology.

Do you specialize? Or do you think being a generalist is the way to go?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

29 thoughts on “Generalist or Specialist: Where Do You Fit?

  1. I think it depends from writer to writer (or from person to person) and what s/he is trying to achieve and be known for. And there is always a question of money. Beggars cannot be choosers so they say. If it pays the bills… But once established and have freedom to be picky I’d say follow your heart and take your brain with you or whatever makes you happy and satisfied. Personally, I prefer writing whatever takes my fancy.

    • Hi Impossiblebong,

      I partly agree with what you’re saying. I don’t think you follow your heart when you’re established. In my humble opinion it should be what gets you started in the first place. If you’re going for the money a different profession will have a higher succes rate.

      So to answer the ‘specialize or broaden your view’ question. Neither. The question about what you love to write about should always come first. And if you love a lot of things, that might end up in writing a broad set of topics.

      But hey, what do I know right? 😉 I’m just a startup 🙂

      • Sounds fair assumption to me. Especially the part about writing what you love the best. Only I think for most people, what get them started is what is in their hearts, then somehow along the way, all sorts of circumstances made them compromise a bit and they ended up writing what floats their boats.

        “if you love a lot of things, that might end up in writing a broad set of topics.”
        Here, I completely agree but personally I will substitute interested in a lot of things instead of ‘love’. 🙂
        But like you said, I don’t know a lot about it either. Just stating my humble opinion.

  2. I think it comes down to who you are as a person. This pertains to both non-fiction and fiction, of course. And I think from there, you’ll find the idiosyncrasies that make you you and that translates to your writing. I write across a broad spectrum of genres, but there are themes that I always find in my writing as well as a ‘tone’. I think I’d go mad if I was pigeonholed into only one or two areas of expertise, but then again, I’m an Aquarian, so…

  3. I have thought about the same question myself and thought about the perspective of being a reader. A good writer is always welcomed first and foremost, but if the context of the story is in doubt and there are factual or conceptual faults even a great writer cannot hold the reader’s focus. On the other hand, a professor in a particular specialty can have all the expertise to offer a very factual based context in the story, but their writing is dry with facts and information, what hope does the reader have in enjoying the content? As a writer we can have a specialty of expertise because of our own life context or personal interests and experiences that provide excellent context in our stories but we should remember our responsibility to the reader to offer even fiction as truth. When we are stirred to write stories that take us beyond first hand knowledge, research and investigation is a part of the writer’s responsibility so his or her’s context marries the skillful content intended. My suggestion is always reverse the roles as you write, “As a reader of your story, would you believe what is in the story? Doubt is a sign the context of the story is divorced from the content. Even in pure supernatural fiction “the supernatural must be believable, so much so reality in the mind of the reader is redefined while in your story.” Good question today…thanks.

  4. I wonder… I don’t think that any knowledge is ever wasted; for example, learning to write poetry is also helping me to learn to write children’s picture books, both with a wide variety of subject material; having learned how to compose a business letter will help me to write a query letter to a publisher some day, etc.

  5. Great questions. I find that when I find a writer of a particular genre, and I like their work, I tend to give any work that strays from their niche a chance. Although, through bias I suppose, I usually am not fond of the new work. I guess I just get so use to the voice in their specialized genre. So to answer the question, stay special.

    • Thanks, Mocha. I find I’m similar with authors — especially those that write different genres — I can love one series/type of their writing and not be a fan at all of their other writing – which seems strange, since it’s the same person. But for them as writers, they now attract a broader audience since there are other readers similar to me who prefer one series over another!

  6. As I write in multiple genres – whatever comes to mind actually – I believe writers should explore all genres (within reason as some may not appeal) whether writing or reading them, to give themselves an understanding of genre types and how the narratives differ in structure and composition.

  7. Hi if me wirting is everything everyknowledge i see and i read is i like write it in my blog. wirting is just like my hobbie sharing what i see and hear in this world you know wirting is like expres my emotion sorry bad english i from indonesia

  8. Reblogged this on Inward-Facing Writers and commented:
    This is a fantastic question… I’m torn at the moment. Most times I write fictive stuffs based on what I observe IRL. But sometimes I feel moved to offer advice (cuz, you know, I have life figured out). Yet, my blog is designed to cater to introverts and writers. I guess I’m still finding my voice… What do you guys think?

  9. This is a question that do resonates in my mind sometimes, in a writers mind there is usually collision of thoughts, the desire to explore and write about anything that he comes across.
    so it isn’t easy to be a specialist in a field when they are many area to explore.

  10. In the screenwriting world, it’s best to pigeonhole yourself. They’re going to do it to you, anyway. It’s better to be known as the person who writes a particular genre, “that’s the girl who writes quirkly rom-coms,” or “that’s the guy who writes gritty, hard-boiled noir TV.” After you’re established, then you can branch out. If you’re a generalist to start, producers won’t know how to think of you and consequently, they won’t think of you when it comes to work.

  11. I tend to be a generalist. While I like formulas, I was the kid who wanted to be too many things when I grew up 😛 Part of me still thinks “Am I too old to become an Olympian? Or an astronaut?” So you can imagine how scattered my writing can be!

    But you have a point – being specialized makes it easier to build a brand . So I do segment all my different “types” of work into varying alter egos in order to assist branding.

  12. I’ve just gotten back to blogging and my blog’s (The Lifestyle Nook) tagline reads “because life is too short to specialize”. I was thinking of my profession as a lawyer when I decided on the tag but I guess the same could also apply in writing. Writing about a variety of topics that interest me sounds more fun for me. But yeah, I’m invoking the disclaimer – I’m a start-up and that’s only my opinion. 🙂

    Real glad by the way that I got across your blog. 🙂

  13. Pingback: Writers, Better with Age plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | mobile youth nigeria

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