Writers’ Tips: Becoming a Specialist
As a journalist, my father covered everything: politics, business, crime, movies, even (occasionally) sports – something for which he claimed total disinterest. In a newspaper profile of him, one of his editors noted that he was one of the few people who, given time, could single-handedly write an entire newspaper. In his day, it made him one of Australia’s top journalists, an exponent of “old-school”, jack-of-all-trades journalism.
I claim no such versatility. I write mainly about the topics that interest me, and never underwent the same cadetship (that’s “internship”, for American readers) that my father did, that saw him work for every section of the newspaper. Though there are still a few such writers, most writers are specialists. They become renowned as an “expert” in a certain field. This doesn’t mean that they can’t write anything else, but it does help to give them a reputation. Even my father, after several years learning to ropes in all areas, eventually settled into a career of political journalism.
In my case, some of my early articles established me as a writer on the subjects of comic books, television and movies. As a result, I am often contacted by editors, asking me to write on these subjects. I am particularly sought-after for stories on comics, as – while almost everyone watches movies and TV – most other writers have better things to do with their time than read comics. A few comic book fans, in fact, have told me how pleased they are to find a writer who likes comics almost as much as they do.
Fortunately, this doesn’t limit my horizons. On the contrary, it has been a way to meet new editors, and prove my writing skills to them. They now assign me stories on completely unrelated topics.
Even in the far more glamorous world of novels, most writers are specialists. Ben Elton, for example, specialised as a comedy writer – and he has used this success to gradually win fame as the author of thrillers and dramas. Though his fans bought his first novel, “Stark” (1989), on the basis on his popularity as a comedian and TV writer, he proved with this (and his next few novels) that he could also weave some effective thriller and dramatic elements into his humorous narrative. Many of his successive novels have relied less on humour, and his recent work is far removed from his early comedy writings. However, he is now known as a serious novelist, so his books are still popular. He started being known as one kind of specialist writer (stand-up comedy) and is now another (thriller novels).
But what if you specialise in writing non-fiction, but you have a dream of writing novels? That’s still possible – as Mark Kurlansky could attest. He is a well-known name for his non-fiction historical books like the best-seller “Cod: The Fish That Changed the World”. These books, however, have told intriguing stories with flair – perfect credentials for a fiction writer. Recently, Kurlansky’s first novel was published.
The lesson for writers: Don’t be afraid to specialise. It can make you a “name” writer, while leading to many things.
Article by Noivedya Juddery
Noivedya is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Australia. He is a professional writer and has had several articles and books published