Five Ways to Diversify Your Writing Portfolio

In case you haven’t figured it out just by reading a few of these blog entries, I like reading Folio. Even as a freelancer, I find this magazine-centric site filled from top to bottom with useful and interesting content. Take Folio blogger Mark Newman’s recent entry, You Will Be Fired. Newman’s advice is aimed at people making careers in magazine publishing, but his excellent advice should also be required reading for anyone aspiring to make a go at freelancing full time. Newman compares the writer’s collection of published clips to a stock portfolio.

In the investment world, people who don’t diversify get killed. The same goes for freelance writers. Sure, you could spend a good deal of time writing nothing but articles about Creative Anachronism, how to make your own swords, and what to wear to the renaissance faire. You could also spend a lot of time sticking your thumb up your nose wondering why you only sell five to ten pieces per year.

Here are some ways you can branch out, flex your creative muscles, and try to pitch ideas to new markets you never even thought of touching before. Some of these ideas are certifiably nutty, and by design. The purpose is to get you thinking about your own work in ways you’re not used to:

5. Make a list of your topics of expertise. Now take each part of your list and find a secondary topic that is informed by your actual expertise. A good example–if you have a lot of experience writing about art, chances are you’ve got a lot of solid information about how artists go about promoting themselves. You can start writing pieces about PR and marketing using what you’ve learned from your art writing. The key is to play up the artist-as-relentless-self-marketer angle.  Apply this idea to every entry in your list. You’ll be shocked at what you learn about yourself.

4. Try writing an article in an area you know NOTHING about, but applying the concepts you DO know something about. Yes, it will take some additional research to know how to properly address, say, an audience of custom home builders. But if you’ve written a lot about psychology, you can use that experience to address the custom builders. How about an article on the psychology of first impressions as it applies to seeing a finished job in a kitchen or new bedroom? See where this is going? Sure, it’s a nutty example, but it illustrates the point. Pitch a screwball idea like this to enough editors and one of them will bite, even if just out of curiosity.

3. Pitch articles where you put two completely opposite approaches together. What does a restaurant review have to do with writing a business piece about customer service in the banking industry? Nothing–unless you apply the rules for the restaurant review to the banking environment. The way you perceive customer service is the same no matter what activity you’re involved in…but taking something out of its normal context is a great way to make it seem unique enough for an editor to take a chance on.

2. Partner up with someone who is working in an area you’d like to branch out into. If you want to get a list of clips going in a new area, partnering up with an experienced writer in that field is a great way to get your toe in the door. Writing partnerships are tricky beasts requiring a lot of honesty and thick skin, but when they work they usually go like gangbusters.

1. The best way to branch out into new markets is to take the subject matter and try it on for size yourself. If you want to write about horseback riding, go ride a damn horse and learn what that world is all about. The same goes for computers, writing about the great outdoors, travel, anything. Once you’ve logged some time in your new field of experience, think about how you want to query, what kinds of articles you’d like to pitch, and how to use what you already know well in tandem with this new stuff you’ve been trying. It’s best to wait until you’ve gotten over the honeymoon period with any new topic before pitching. When you’re still learning the ropes, it can reflect in your writing. If you’re writing from a beginner’s perspective, that’s a plus. If not, take some extra time with the topic and do your best to learn a lot quickly.