Third in a 7-part series
It used to be that writers were known for a specific style. When you think of your favorite writers, you probably think about them in terms of their genres.
The result for some writers was that their names were tied so tightly to that particular style of writing, in order for them to branch out they had to adopt pseudonyms. In some cases they thought of themselves as other people when writing outside their comfort zone, in others it was to appease the audience.
Now, I am no Stephen King, nor am I Richard Bachman. I have no need to change my name or persona to fit a preconceived notion. That doesn’t change the question I asked myself, “do I have a niche?” Better yet, did I want one?
The best advice I’ve ever gotten was to write what I know, and speak from the heart. I never understood the importance of that, at least not in a tangible way. Back in college the first assignment every freshman was given, was to write an essay. You were given a handful of choices from which to choose a topic, an essay book, and off you went to write.
As I looked through the list of choices, one in particular held great appeal. Who do I admire and why?
I wrote about my paternal grandmother. The struggles she had endured, her strength that saw her through, and her love that knew no bounds. It never occurred to me while writing that what I was saying was going to make any sense, I just wrote. In the end, I was one of only a handful of people who passed, and didn’t have to take English 101.
Every now and again I would write some poetry, or a paper on early American government, and received additional praise for my writing. One professor proclaimed I had an eclectic writing style that pleased his inner reader, oh my!
So what did I do with this talent for an easy reading style and ability to string words together? Not much. Like most people I turned in other directions, found career paths that would foster monetary growth and stifle artistry.
Then came the public Internet, the gold rush of the information age.
Dial up ISPs offered web space as part of the package, GeoCities was teeming with fan pages, and everyone was busy learning #000000 from #FFFFFF. Anyone who desired could have a voice.
Over time, the Internet grew more social. Fledgling networks gave way to second-generation reinventing the wheel. New begat another new, and over time natural selection won out.
I participated some, I hung back some, and in time I started writing again. WordPress sites made it so easy to set up a page. Didn’t everyone start with “Hello World”? I remember writing that I was using it as a digital diary, and how I saw it as a replacement for the office water cooler for conversations.
I wrote about being a mom of an exceptional needs child, my relationships and interactions with single and married girlfriends, and life in general. Hey, what do you know, I was still eclectic!
Truth be told, I was still just writing about what I knew, the personal experiences.
Who needs a niche when you can facilitate multiple conversations on various topics?
I still do the same when posting to social media, no matter the platform. I write or post what I find interesting. It’s for me, and if just one person reads it, great! If it starts a discussion, fantastic! If it resonates with people enough for them to share the content, and foster further engagement?
There is a difference between being an authority and being authoritative, just as there is a difference between possessing knowledge and being a know-it-all. That is my worry about falling into a niche, walking the fine line between being engaging and preaching.
The other downside to boxing yourself into a topical corner is that just like an actor, you fall in to the pit of typecasting. Expect the expected; you’ve built the walled garden, in other words, boring.
For me, writing is like taking a drive without knowing my final destination, and not bringing a map. I never know where I’m going to wind up. I enjoy stopping along the way, discovering the unexpected find, experiencing new things, and savoring the moment.
Off I go, bottle of water in one hand, mouse in the other; scouring the Internet in search what, I know not. Words yet unwritten, waiting for an experience to make them come to life.
I see flashing lights in the distance. The overhead signboard reads, “traffic ahead expect delays.”