5 ways 'specializing' can boost your freelance writing career

By David Hammond
 My first writing specialty was real estate opportunities in Uruguay
(Image: Punta del Este, Uruguay, by David Hammond)
When I started writing full time, I still had much to learn.

My career got traction thanks to a magazine editor who took time to help guide my efforts and polish my work.

Why did he go to the trouble?

Part of the reason probably stemmed from kindness. He could see I was serious about writing and wanted to help.

However, it didn’t hurt that I was a specialist—an expert on a topic in strong demand with his publication’s readers.

Generalists vs. specialists 

A generalist is a writer first, willing to research and write about most any topic.

A specialist is a freelance writer who specializes in writing on one or more topics they know inside-out.

Most new writers believe their best chance of success is to start out as a generalist.

The thinking behind it goes like this: if I cast my net as wide as possible it will improve my chances of getting “something.”

But the truth is, specializing can often do more to get your writing career going than a willingness to write about anything.

Here’s why.

1 As a specialist, you can add more value

Many generalists assert they can produce a good story on any topic relying on the journalistic process that includes responsible research.

This is true to a point. However, it’s no secret to editors that a specialist writing on his or her specialty can furnish a story with greater accuracy, depth, and insight than a generalist.

While you may not have as much writing experience as some other writers; when it comes to your specialty, you write with greater authority than a generalist.

Plus, if you possess genuine enthusiasm and interest for your specialty, it often comes through in your writing, adding even more value.

2 Specializing can help you win assignments 

Editorial teams can spruce up writing. They can’t compensate for a shallow understanding of a subject.

So, when it comes to proposing articles and seeking assignments on your specialty, your expertise will weigh in your favor, giving you an edge with editors and business clients.

And once you break in and establish industry relationships, editors and clients may come to you when they want dependable work on your topic.

3 Specializing focuses your efforts 

As a specialist, you don't consider every article idea that passes through your mind, wondering if it’s the one that could lead to a break.

Instead, you have a clear target to focus your energies, enabling you to quickly identify ideas and opportunities that serve your purpose and build your reputation as an expert, making your efforts more concentrated.

4 Specializing can enable you to produce better work with less research time

Becoming a specialist often takes an upfront investment of time.

You may need to bolster your base knowledge, learning the fundamental history and background of your topic.

You may need to form and maintain relationships with topic experts and insiders.

And you'll need to stay updated with changes and trends on the topic you cover.

But once you've made that initial investment, you’ll be writing on a topic you already know well, keep up on, and revisit regularly. You can produce high-quality work in less time with less effort.

And when additional research is required, it will build on your existing knowledge, adding to your growing expertise.

5 Specializing can make your career more fun and interesting 

In many cases, the best topic is one that resonates with your likes, interests, and life experience.

Think of the foodie who writes about food; the horse lover who writes about horses; or the fitness enthusiast who writes about health and wellness.

As a topic specialist, you’ll immerse yourself in your writing topic. You’ll spend time interviewing and interacting with others interested in your topic. It will occupy your thoughts as you do research and write. So, make sure it’s a topic you like and will hold your interest over time.

The more aligned you are with your specialty:
  • The more relevant and engaging your assignments 
  • The more authoritative your writing 
  • The more kindred spirits you’re likely to meet during your research and interviews. 
If you scratch your own itch by focusing on a topic you’d be most interested in reading about; it can both improve your writing experience as well as increase your chances of success.