If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you’ve likely read my post on making the transition from academic writing to writing for a web-based audience.
In that post, I briefly touched on the idea that, as a blogger, you’re no longer assigned topics to write about; it’s all up to you.
As a fledgling freelance writer and blogger, I’ll admit this is something I’ve struggled with over the past year. In fact, I still feel some of my best work has been for Lifehack, which provides a list of topics to choose from rather than having writers start completely from scratch.
When I first started writing for Lifehack, I excitedly chose pretty much any topic I felt comfortable writing about. I wrote about successful habits. I wrote about anxiety and depression. I wrote about working from home. I wrote about the dangers of stress. Whatever topics came across my dashboard, that’s what I wrote about.
I’ll be honest: If those topics weren’t listed, there’s no way I would have been able to come up with all of those ideas on my own. At least, not as a rookie blogger.
In the Beginning
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You want to start a blog. You have literally thousands of ideas swimming around in your head. You have a ton of interests. You have experience in a variety of areas.
You have absolutely no idea where to start.
You would love to write about sports one day, politics the next, and, I don’t know, your experiences as a shrimp boat captain the day after that.
But what kind of blog would that be? It’d be like the Internet version of the mixed-up chameleon.
However, instead of picking one of these topics and running with it, your brain pulls you in all three directions until you’re stretched so thin you don’t want to write about any of it.
So what do you do?
That A-Ha Moment
There are a ton of articles out there on the Web telling you to immediately choose a niche and start writing. The ones I’ve read all have one thing in common:
They are all focused on the monetary value of your blog.
If your goal is to start making money from your blog right now, then yes, I would advise that you figure out exactly what you want to write about before you get started.
But if making a living from your writing is your goal for the long-term, you’ll be relieved to know that you don’t need to have a niche right now!
Not only should you write about everything that interests you now, but you should continue to write about everything that interests you as you progress in your career as a blogger.
In fact, when you begin your freelance career, you should even write about topics that are completely outside of your wheelhouse. The first article I wrote for Lifehack was a short description of a YouTube video about how to fix a stripped screw with a rubber band. Anyone that knows me will tell you, I’d never in a million years be the go-to guy for handiwork. While that quick article got me started on my freelancing journey, it only gained about 40 shares on social media. Not my best work, for sure.
(Shameless plug: My second article, which was right up my alley, has over 13,000 social media shares to date; Clearly, writing about your area of expertise has its benefits).
The point is, the more you write, the more you’ll see what works, and what doesn’t.
If you’re unsure of what to focus on in your writing, don’t hesitate to write about whatever’s on your mind at that specific moment in time. At the end of your first week of blogging, wouldn’t you rather have a blog with three seemingly random posts than a blog with no posts at all?
Working Your Way Toward a Niche
Obviously, you’ll eventually want to narrow down your blog’s focus if you want to be considered an expert in a specific field. But there’s nothing wrong with testing the waters to see what your best course of action is.
Build Up Your Skills
If you’re a beginning blogger, you have a lot to learn.
I’ve said it before: You may have been a great writer in college and grade school, but this is a whole new ballgame. If your content is anything less than excellent, your readers aren’t going to stick around very long.
So, before you even start targeting your audience, use your first few blog posts to hone your skills.
Experiment with different forms of writing.
Dive into different topics, interests, and areas of expertise.
Cast a wide net and see if you can snag a few audience members early on in the process.
Keep your portfolio growing with every piece you write.
Above all else: Use every moment spent writing as a learning experience. If you want to make a living writing for the web, you have to come to terms with the fact that you need to always be learning.
Start to Carve Your Niche
So you’ve gone a few weeks, maybe months, and maybe even a year writing on various topics, and you still don’t really know which of these you’d like to focus on professionally.
But now, instead of having a blank canvas and being completely unsure of where to start, now you have dozens and dozens of articles under your belt to help you figure it out.
Take a look back through your blog’s content. And prepare yourself to run a gauntlet of questions:
- Which topics have you written about most?
- Which have you most enjoyed writing about?
- Which have come most naturally to you?
- Which have you learned most about – and would you like to continue learning about?
- Which articles have engaged your audience the most?
- What have your readers had to say about these articles?
- Which topic are you sure they’d like to read more about?
One more question for you: Isn’t it going to be much easier to answer these questions using hindsight than it would have been to predict the answers before you started blogging?
Still Can’t Decide?
If, after this experimental time period concludes, you still can’t figure out which topic to focus on: Don’t.
However, I’m not saying you should continue writing general-knowledge or interest pieces. In fact, quite the contrary.
If you’re so dedicated to each of your topics, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming an expert in more than one field.
But notice what that statement entails:
At some point, you’re going to have to separate your interests completely. You wouldn’t sell lures and fishing poles at a hardware store, would you?
It’ll obviously be incredibly time-consuming and intensive, but if you’re up to the challenge, you can run more than one successful blog, each with a completely different focus. Doing so will net you (sorry, still thinking of fishing) audience members from a variety of industries which you never would have reached if you stuck to a single topic.
Just make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin. You don’t want to lose audience members on both ends because you couldn’t make up your mind and burned yourself out.
The main thing to take away from all this is that you shouldn’t let your indecisiveness when it comes to finding a niche keep you from actually writing. If it comes to it, use the old “throw it at the wall” approach: Whatever sticks is worth looking into, and whatever doesn’t won’t be remembered, anyway.