Writing the Wild Within: Part 4 – Standing Out From the Crowd

Ungulates do not want to stand out from the crowd.  They seek the protection of a herd.

Equally, certain species of fish do not want to stand out from the crowd.  They seek the protection of a school.

Large groups of animals can alert one another to danger.

But what is the danger when you’re a writer or artist?  The danger is being mediocre.

If your a writer or an artist, you need a niche.  You need to stand out from the crowd.

What is a niche?  Something that provides all the requirements you need to thrive.  A niche in the wild is the way an organism utilizes its habitat.  Endangered creatures usually have a very narrow niche, like the Kirkland’s warbler, a little song bird that only nests in concentrations of jack pine.

Of course you can be a generalist and still have a niche – like crows.  I like crows because they are very intelligent birds who have made their living off of humans – mainly our trash.  Or funky road kill.  But even many song birds eat funky road kill, but I diverge…

But if you are a generalist you will have to study many forms and techniques, as opposed to a specialist who narrows their interest.  So which is best?

I bring all of this to your attention because a recent post by Kelly Erickson of Maximum Customer Experience has got me thinking about all of this.  Read her post about the business that tries to do too much.  Very good post, indeed.  Kelly always has good insight into the nature of things and will often catch you off guard with her witty observations.

I started off my freelance career being a jack-of-all-trades.  Of course I am a photographer and writer, but I dabbled in blogging for others and thought of writing grants and press releases because I had written these at a previous job.

I wondered how I was going to integrate my photography into all of this.

I have since decided to specialize in article writing for online and print magazines, with photo packages, or not.  I am also building up my photo repertoire for stock photo agencies.  I feel this is the best utilization of my talents.

This is how I will stand out from the crowd.

But what about you?  Melissa Donovan, of Writing Forward, recently discussed her freelance success.  She has found her niche, and is reveling in her freelance freedom.

What is your niche?  Have you found success as a specialist or a generalist?  Or are you still investigating?

Next post will be about pouring yourself into specified forms.  And why you want to.


Photocredit: © Ellen Wilson

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14 thoughts on “Writing the Wild Within: Part 4 – Standing Out From the Crowd”

  1. Ungulates = herbivore = skittish herd mentality = targets for the carnivores.

    Carnivore = wolves = pack members working as a team, out-smarting the ungulates.

    I think to stand out and succeed, you need to be a carnivore! 🙂

    Friar’s last blog post..Random Bear Photo

  2. @Friar – Carnivores don’t necessarily succeed. Sometimes they starve. It depends on how hard it is for them to get game.

  3. @Ellen

    If I had my druthers, I’d rather be on the top of the food chain, and die trying, than to be a skittish herd member living in fear all my life.

    (ooops! The Friar didnt’ mean to wax so philosophically on a Friday afternoon).

    But that almost sounds like a good topic for another post, doesn’t it? 🙂

    Friar’s last blog post..Random Bear Photo

  4. @Friar – You know what I really want to be? A sloth. One of those creatures that hang in trees in the Amazon and have green moss accumulate in their fur. They look so peaceful. So realized.

    Yeah, it does sound like a good idea for a post. I smell a widget comparison coming on.

  5. Ellen,

    Thanks for the mention. I think you are on to something good with your niche, especially with writers seeming to come out of the woodwork lately. Concentrating on how your photography dictates and enhances the articles you write should help you stand out.

    Helping a pack out can be useful, but there is a “pecking order.” To be the alpha wolf, you’ve got to have standout skills and the courage to promote yourself. If you want to be the carnivore who gets the first pickings, not the one who gets the leftovers, be unique. How’s that for a carnivore-metaphor?




    Kelly’s last blog post..Mail Bag: Or, the Long Tail of Search at MCE

  6. Kelly,

    There’s a smoodles of writers out there. But I don’t feel like I’m competing with them. I feel if writers help eachother they are leaving the world in a better place. Afterall, we are the purveyors of information and perception. Big role to fill.

    I like your groovy metaphor into the nature of all things carnivoristic. I don’t care to be an alpha, but I do need how to market and promote myself better.

  7. Hi Ellen (let’s hope this comment makes it through). Thank you so much for the link mention. I’m a generalist but in my professional writing, I am working toward a niche. I think it will take some time to develop though. There are plenty of pro’s and cons for niche and general writing. However, it seems like a lot of freelancers start out general and develop a specialization as they go. I wish you the best of luck with your articles. Do keep us updated on that 🙂

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..Improve Your Writing: Get Feedback

  8. Melissa,

    You made it through! You must have fixed your glitch.

    I enjoyed your freelance post so I thought I’d link to it and add to your already great discussion.

    I’m a generalist in my fiction; I don’t specialize in any particular genre. I like to study many different subjects, so that also helps me with writing articles or writing fiction. If there is something I need to know, I just study it.

    I think you’re right about how writers evolve. From what I gather most writers start out as generalists in order to sample many different types of writing.

  9. It’s funny how people pretend that the Renaissance was some kind of anomaly rather than a wake up call. It’s not bragging to be good at more than one thing, in fact, as good old Robert A. Heinlein so famously said, “specialization is for insects”.

    It makes things nice and neat when you can pigeonhole people as it makes it easier to understand them. But John Mellencamp is a song writer and he’s a pretty great painter too and a political activist and there’s probably a ton of other things he pours himself into.

    People seem to think in terms of their resume these days, rather than their dreams and it results in less interesting people I think. You don’t really know what you’re capable of in your early twentys so why tie your self down to one field of study after college?

    Darren Daz Cox’s last blog post..Authentic vs Sincere

  10. Ellen, as always an extremely insightful post. I agree with Melissa, as a freelancer many of us start out as generalists and then specialize as we find what we like to do for clients (which can be different than what you thought you’d like doing). I never feel competitive with other writers as I believe that even if someone does the same thing as me, we will do it differently. I will not be the choice for every client but it’s nice to send those people to other talented writers. I like that you have found your groove, you’re good at it and will stand out. Some days I feel like in some areas I’m still experimenting but I have eliminated tons of things I used to do. Thanks E for the excellent insight, it helps to discuss these things with friends. 🙂

    Karen Swim’s last blog post..Be Unstoppable!

  11. Ellen,
    I read Kelly’s post and really loved it. A mentor of mine was questioned in his studio by a New York Times art critique. In question was John’s prolific art work across many media. John told the critic (pardon me) to” get the fuck out of his studio” if he didn’t like it. As John was telling me the story, he said he considers being able to work in several media a fluency. I had asked him about that very thing. He was in every piece of work, consistently and with absolute passion of conviction. So there was a specialty there . The niche of John. The MacArthur Foundation loved the niche of John so much, they gave him one of their Genius Awards.
    My point? Pick your conviction and go after it in whatever form it takes. Even if it takes many forms.
    Thanks for reminding me of that story. It so very important to tap the very bits of us that make us who we are.

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..The Weekend 30 Minute Challenge

  12. @Darren – I agree with you. But if you want to make a living at your art do you then think in terms of your resume? You have to put it together in some coherent form in order to sell yourself. But your current post really hit me hard. It seems to then come down to the individual versus society again.

    @Karen – I like to have these discussions so we can share all this info with eachother. No, we won’t always agree with eachother, but we can assimilate all the information and then make up our minds. We need eachother to have these discussions. Thanks for stopping by and adding your ideas. I value your opinion.

    @Janice – It is all about conviction. And passion. That’s pretty funny John told the critic to get out of his studio. Who does the critic think he is, anyway? They take on the role of judge and jury. King of like, “I will authenticate you. I have the power. No one else.” WE decide who we will give power to. But that is how society is I guess.

    Thanks for your comments everyone. I know you all are very busy. I value your time and support.

  13. Ellen, Yay! I’m so relieved my comments are going through now. That was freaking me out. I’m a generalist in fiction too but I’d really like to get into sci-fi/fantasy. That adds a lot of extra challenges though. I also get a lot of ideas for screenwriting but I don’t think I want to get involved in Hollywood…

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..Improve Your Writing: Get Feedback

  14. Melissa,

    I’m glad you figured that out. That had to be frustrating. I’m sure it was freaky!

    I’m a generalist in knowledge, but I only write certain forms: short stories, novel, and articles. I thought I’d try romances to break into the women’s lit marketplace, but that would entail reading tons of romances. And I just can’t see myself doing that.

    I wouldn’t mind adapting my short stories or novels to screeplays. Especially the novel I’m working on now. I have no idea what getting involved in Hollywood would entail. People there can’t be any worse than here, eh?

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