Finding Your Niche (Or Not)

I discovered early in my writing life that it’s very easy to fall into a niche.  Now, don’t get me wrong, some people can thrive in a niche; they can even make money at it (and admittedly, making money at it would make the thriving much easier).  I am not one of those people.

I always knew when I would get that way, because I would start to formulate stories that were far too technical or specialized for anyone other than me to understand.  In those early days, my girlfriend at the time was my “beta tester”, and I could tell by the look on her face as she read my work.  It was all fiction, and perhaps you can argue that writers of fiction have more leeway with this sort of thing, but even they need to make their work readable—especially if they want to publish, considering that books need to pay for themselves, at least.

Now that I’m blogging about real life (and still writing fiction, too—81,000 words and counting!), the temptation to write myself into a niche is even more real.  That would be fine, if this were a niche blog.  (Some of you may think it already is, as much as I have talked about my children.)  But it isn’t—and truthfully, I was always critical of niche blogs, like:

  • Food blogs.  I love to eat, but a steady diet (haha!) of READING about eating or cooking makes me nauseous.
  • Family blogs.  No, this is NOT one, I insist!  I like them if they are humorous or useful, considering that I’m a single parent myself—but sometimes I want to remember that I have other interests too.
  • Fashion blogs.  Don’t get me started.  If I were a fashionable person, I might feel differently, but one look at my profile picture will tell you I’m not.
  • Religious blogs.  I have to be careful here, because faith is a very important thing to me, and to, well, most of the world, in one form or another.  I respect and read some religious blogs, and they are usually fantastic.  The problem is when they become malicious or argumentative—doing more harm than good.
  • Travel blogs.  There are so many beautiful places in the world, but the problem is, I won’t be visiting them anytime soon.  Seeing them on the blog pages is great, but the jealousy can be a tad overwhelming.
  • Pet blogs.  I love animals (my current housing situation won’t allow pets, but this is the first time in my life that I haven’t had any—and no, I didn’t get rid of them; the cat escaped into the unknown several years ago, and the dog died shortly before my last move).  But sometimes I would catch myself thinking, “Don’t you have anything else in your life?”  Not very fair or nice, but it happened.
  • Blogs for causes.  I try to be gracious here, because there are lots of fantastic causes out there.  I’m especially sympathetic toward those who deal with medical causes, like cancer (I’ve lost a grandfather to lung cancer and an uncle to prostate cancer, and my sister is also a cancer patient).  So I won’t criticize here; my issue was never with those devoted to these causes, but rather, with myself, for not being interested enough.
  • Political blogs.  ‘Nuff said.

Critical indeed!  Shame on me.

So it was with shock this morning that I found myself telling a friend that she should write a blog.  She runs a consignment business—and here is my confession:  Before she very patiently explained it to me, I had no idea what that meant.  “Uhhh…something with yard sales?”  Haha…no.  She was not pleased at that.  At any rate, between her gasps for breath and explosions of spontaneous anger (it’s her busy season, apparently) I told her that she could share the same stories that she shares with me—that there is no doubt an audience for it.  And I meant it; people would read it.

What happened to me?  Here I am, advocating the very thing I used to hate.  I must be sick…oh wait, I am (see yesterday’s post).  But not like that!  Somewhere along the way, my perspective changed.

I realized that the things people write—the face they present to the world—can tell you so much about them.  It’s in the things we show to other people that we allow ourselves to be known.  When you consider that no one can ever truly, completely know anyone else—that we all live our lives inside our heads, as someone more famous than me has said—then you (or I) should revel in the images people present, because it’s the only way to get to know someone.  This is doubly true when you will never meet them face to face—when you can only meet them through their writing.  In our writing, we reveal what moves us, what matters to us, and what can hurt us.  So, even something so simple as a blog entry becomes an act of trust in those who will see it—even if it is trust at a distance.

Of course, there are those who don’t write a certain image in order to reveal themselves.  Some people use the image they project—written or in person—as a shield, to protect themselves.  They hide behind an image , like a scared kid projecting a tough-guy image so as not to be hurt.  Or, worse, they use their image as a weapon, to hurt others, usually for the same reason:  I’ll hurt you before you can hurt me.  But I like to think—and this may be a foolish assumption on my part—that most bloggers, and most writers in general, aren’t like that.  Those who are, well, just remember that a sword can cut the wielder, as well.

But here’s the heart of the matter:  I want to be known.  I want to know others.  I think on some level, most of us do.  If that means that you present yourself through the lens of a certain focus or interest, so be it—you’re still the same person, and who you are will show in what you do.  The same is true for me.  That’s the way it should be—after all, life lived alone is nothing if not lonely.  Let’s not be lonely more than we have to be.

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