Writing is not brain surgery. And that's a good thing. By their training and given expertise, brain surgeons cannot stray far from their specialty. Writers, on the other hand, can stray. You can—and should—investigate new areas of writing, different styles and fresh opportunities. As a writer, you can pursue anything from business to health, from sports to lifestyle. A good journalist can take years of reading press releases, Web site or brochure copy, and turn that knowledge and experience into new possibilities.
Think outside your box
Boxes are confining. They limit your abilities and spirits. They keep you from becoming a pioneer and adventurer who might discover new opportunities. Put a fresh perspective on what you've always done, why you've done it and how. Then, brainstorm ways to possibly change your future path.
One benefit of freelancing is not being tied to any genre or medium. Everything you create can help sell the brand. Consider creating a Web site or writing a book on an area of expertise or special interest.
New trends in self-publishing, including the ability to produce a book in a word processing program and print single copies digitally, have removed much of the high costs once associated with publishing. Books can be used as marketing tools for your writing efforts, and can bring opportunities in consulting and public speaking.
When times are tough, I do more writing for newspapers and thinly-sliced niche and trade publications. This is work that may not pay as much as a consumer magazine—or it may pay nicely, but there's a learning curve because you're venturing into new territory— but it can grow to become consistent work. The better you get at it, the more efficient you become at delivering more content in less time. Target publications include community newspapers, city or regional magazines and trade publications.
Practice your pitch
Many writers never learned the art of sales. Marketing and self-promotion aren't taught in journalism or English courses, and once you're in a staff position, self-promotion often is the first muscle to atrophy.
Develop or hone your elevator speech—the 15-second commercial that you recite when someone asks what you do. Update that resume or clips list and be prepared to send it out on a moment's notice. Even post some links to your better work on your Web site or in your e-mail signature.
Remember one caveat
You cannot be all things to all people. Being a journalist, an author, a copywriter, a speech writer, a Web site developer and content editor, and radio advertising jingle poet may position you well for every opportunity that comes along, but it will perfect you for none of those opportunities. There's a reason business writers don't typically write lifestyle pieces or can't be found in the press box at a big game. Trying to serve every client who comes along can weaken your abilities.
It's fine line between branching out and spreading yourself thin. Only cast as many lines as you realistically can handle. Fishermen who drop too many hooks in the water can be overwhelmed when multiple strikes occur. So pace yourself. Send several query e-mails or phone calls, and work them until they've run their course.
They say that luck is the process of opportunity meeting preparation. Staying prepared in slow times helps the business stay ready to take advantage of prospects that arrive when things turn good again.
This article appears in the January 2003 issue of Writer's Digest.