The Goose and the Golden Egg (on Specializing)

The Goose and the Golden Egg (on Specializing)

Behold, the fool saith, “Put not all thine eggs in the one basket”
– which is but a manner of saying, “Scatter your money and your attention;”

but the wise man saith, “Put all your eggs in the one basket and
watch that basket.”

– Pudd’nHead Wilson (central character of the 1894 novel by Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens)

Why specialize as a professional writer? Samuel Clemens also wrote: “The ruin of any work is a divided interest. Concentrate – concentrate. One thing at a time.”

Specializing allows you to:

  • focus your creative energy
  • keep track of important details
  • build Rolodex and customer contacts
  • focus your marketing to a smaller audience
  • build your expertise, becoming more valuable to your clients

Many of us writers, myself in particular, are fundamentally interested in many, many things. Maybe too many. We want to see what’s behind every closed door. We hope to serve all potential clients. We think everyone should read everything we write.

Each new project, idea, or networking contact has a natural intrigue because of their freshness. There’s an excitement in tackling new, untraveled mountains to see if they can be climbed. When I was younger, I hitchhiked each summer to the Rockies, Grand Tetons, Sierra Nevadas, to explore the heights, often rambling solo through sun and storm like my hero, John Muir. My first published work, in fact, was a poem, published in a mountaineering magazine, based on experiencing a tremendous storm in the Tetons.

But I’ve learned over time that there’s much to be gained by walking the same path over and over. The trails through the ancient woods near my Milwaukee house, a magical place of towering beeches, maples, oaks, basswood trees called the Seminary Woods, are never, ever, the same. The place changes with the weather, the time of day, and the seasons. Not to mention with my moods and thoughts.

By walking the woods over and over, I get to know them really well. I discover the smaller trails. I find where the different types of spring ephemerals bloom: trout lilies, trillium, spring beauties, jack-in-the-pulpit, marsh marigolds, skunk cabbage, bloodroot. I discover the tree where the great horned owl lives, get to hear its call on the winged hunt.

For writers, learning to become a specialist will advance your career tremendously. It’s a core concept of personal branding.

For a great book on the subject, I recommend one I worked on as editor some years ago: Ready, Aim, Specialize!, by Kelly James-Enger. Her own career is exemplary. (Her other book, Six-Figure Freelancing, gives you an idea of her earning power – an income goal she achieved in her sixth year of freelance writing.)

Ready, Aim, Specialize!: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (2nd edition, Marion Street Press, 2007) teaches you the ins and outs of specializing. It includes:

  • 20 queries that nabbed assignments for new writers
  • Why to develop a niche of your own
  • The top ten writing specialties and how to break into each (health, parenting, home & garden, travel, business . . .)
  • How to better market your work; how to research and write more efficiently
  • How to find experts and data for articles in each of the ten areas

Check out either of Kelly’s book. Then, choose your basket, gather your eggs, and keep an eye on them. And think strategically about how to find the special goose that lays the golden egg for you.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve been considering a return to the “human interest” articles I wrote freelance for a local newspaper several years ago.

    I had issues with the editor (she would not proofread the final result before printing, saying she didn’t have enough time, so there were constant weird punctuation and spelling errors in everyone’s articles), so I quit–without warning–and did not look back.

    However, the articles that were published were some of the most popular the paper ever printed. It’s a tiny paper in a small town, and (at the time) I earned $10 per finished product. I wouldn’t expect much more in the pay rate, but I’d like to get some well-printed clippings for my file.

    Then, perhaps, I can work my way up. Meantime, it’s still fiction for me.

    P.S. Your description of the woods brought to mind the forests of my childhood–the leafy, dense mystery of the forests in the Pacific Northwest, and the tall, spare pines of the High Desert. I think that’s where I first fell in love with fantasy and history.

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