Hi. This is an old, unmaintained blog. You may find these sites more to your liking:

Carson Brackney: This is my primary site.

Ad Astra Traffic: Content production/article writing service.

Ad Astra Traffic Team: For those who'd like to get writing gigs with Ad Astra.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mixed reaction re: writer flexibility...A few additional thoughts...

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the importance of hiring a freelance writer with specific topic area expertise and whether writers should be willing to "bite off" jobs when they lacked significant subject area experience (see: Choosing a writer based on topic expertise...)

I maintain that unless the client needs highly technical or nuanced material designed for presentation to an expert audience, that a well-researched writer should be more than capable of handling the job. I also believe that clients should recognize they don't need experts who write, but writers who can develop expertise.

That assessment has provoked some interesting reactions. Sean McKee commented that:

"I think this is encouraging counsel especially for writers (both the aspiring and professional kinds) who are looking to develop depth in their writing and, possibly, keep the work interesting and diverse. It is also encouraging to read an honest and responsive approach to crafting a sales pitch that, essentially, builds upon limited knowledge of a given subject (i.e., ignorance coupled with enthusiasm and ability)."

Although I wish Sean wouldn't have used the "I" word, I agree with his take. There is a level of skill development that comes from entering new fields. I've also found that work in a new niche invariably leads to new ideas and ways of thinking that transfer nicely to subsequent projects, even if the topics seem unrelated. Sean also hits a nail squarely by noting that both enthusiasm and ability (particulary in terms of research skills) are at the heart of why I take this perspective.

Speaking of enthusiasm, Wendy provided an interesting take on the subject. She said:

"This is something I'm passionate about, but with an opposite viewpoint than you Carson! LOL One of the most important reasons I began working for myself is that I hated being forced to do a job I had no interest in. If I was faced with having to research and write about the lifespan of clams, or how to improve your credit score, or which type of tile is best for bathrooms....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I just don't think I could force myself through it. I'd feel like I was chained to my desk in an office again, mindlessly pushing keys on my keyboard in exchange for money."

Okay, first off I would like to say that I have tackled two of the three horrible examples she mentions over the course of the last year. No, really. I haven't done clams yet, but that could happen tomorrow.

I do understand her position--if she has no interest in the topic, the opportunity won't interest her at all. Originally, I approached this from the perspective of whether or not a buyer needs an expert. Wendy's comment is nifty because it reminds us that the stretch of expertise might need to be interesting to the writer, too. I usually don't run into that problem. I could credit infinite intellectual curiosity for my willingness to take on jobs that might bore others to tears. However, it probably has more to do with my distaste for turning down work. Honestly, though, I usually find something within every topic that interests me. The prospect of boredom has never really entered my mind when I decide whether or not to pursue/accept a job.

Diane emailed me and mentioned the post. She provides a different perspective on the subject:

"I was thinking about your post about being a generalist vs. specializing. I've always been sort of a jack of all trades, but to be honest, I don't get as much satisfaction from that as I would be an expert in just one or two areas. Obviously that can be limiting, but I feel like I spread my energies too thin otherwise. Though, learning about new things now and then is kinda fun. :)"

I think that is an interesting point. I guess I have never linked depth/breadth in terms of topic specialization to my personal satisfaction. Obviously, Diane has, and she comes out as an advocate of specialization. I guess my satisfaction stems more from the quality of work I provide and the continued growth of Content Done Better more than it does from topic areas about which I write. I can understand the attraction of developing a specialized field of topic expertise, though. In fact, I get called upon to do so much work in a couple of fields that I almost fear being labeled as the go-to person for materials on Topic Z. Guess I am just a generalist at heart.

Ann wrote a whole long post on the subject, which everyone should read. And, no, I am not just saying that because she said I am "truly an inspiration" and other nice stuff. Although that's not a bad thing to say, for those considering it.

In part, Ann said:

"I believe if you have good skills as a writer you can obtain jobs from clients even if you aren't the expert. If a client likes your work he/she may be willing to take a chance that you will deliver quality material and choose you over someone who may be more knowledgeable in the field. It's for this reason that writers should step out of their comfort zones, on occasion, and write about things they aren't familiar with.

Stepping into unfamiliar territory is good practice for the craft of writing too. Not only do you learn new subject matter but you also hone your skills as a writer. And in writing we are constantly working on and honing our skills. It's one profession that you must always strive to become better at. Even the well-known authors like King are constantly working on their skills."

I mentioned skills development when responding to Sean's observations, but I think Ann says it better. Removing ourselves from comfort zones and self-administering shocks to the system can be a great way of building up writing muscle. And I don't believe clients have to suffer as a result.