When I started my career in writing over a decade ago, it was easy to find niche work. There were an array of magazines on every imaginable topic: parenting, gardening, tech, pets, woodwork… if you wanted to write about skinny-dipping in Canada while drinking wine, there was probably a mag for it!
I live in New Zealand and in the last few weeks, one large magazine company here closed its doors and another media outlet laid off 120 staff. I’m expecting one of my main magazine jobs won’t be there after this is all over.
Even before the current situation, media was struggling. Last year a number of digital media outlets, such as BuzzFeed and HuffPost, made staffing cuts.
Why am I telling you this? Because the writing world is a roller coaster. If you want to survive here, one skill is more important than any other.
You need to keep up with what editors want and where the current jobs are for writers. It changes constantly. You also need to learn to adjust your “voice” to serve your client, or your editor and their publication.
1. Keep up with trends
In the mid to late 2000’s confessional essays became huge. Writers that caught on quickly, made a lot of money with these shocking and very personal stories. That trend is now fading but, on the flip side, the demand for personal essays is increasing.
Personal essays are similar to confessional essays, but have more creative scope. They can be on any topic — not just shocking ones.
Writing goes through phases and readers’ tastes change. Look at how different writing was even 50 years ago! Magazine editors for example, once wanted formal, fact-based articles. Now many want stories that have a warm, conversational tone. We’re even encouraged to swear in some publications!
Another trending area for writers at the moment is content strategy. While advertising has dropped and journalists are losing their jobs, new markets are opening up for writers.
If you don’t know how to write a certain type of content or about a certain topic — learn! We have the benefit of research, courses, and expert advice at our fingertips. Investing a few days of effort into learning a new writing skill pays off, especially if you plan to make writing a long-term career.
2. Adjust your voice
You will have your own unique writing voice, but anyone can develop the ability to alter your style to fit what editors want.
Of course, creative freedom in your writing is important too. I’d encourage you to just write sometimes for no-one but yourself. See what flows out of you when there’s no pressure, no expectations, just you and your creative juices.
But when you need to make money off your writing — when you have a publication you’d like to be published in or a client who wants particular content — take a good look at the style of writing they like.
Is it conversational? Do they like a lot of links to research and experts?
Is there dialogue, a personal anecdote?
Some articles now are being written in 2nd person. Jessica Wildfire does this well: “Sometimes you need to stop everything you’re doing. You need to sit down and pretend like you’re waking up again. You need to be ready to do something completely different,” in How to Cool Off the Hot Mess Inside You all the Time.
Examine the preferred format and mimic it. (Mimic the format not the content — you want to avoid plagiarizing articles!) Print magazines for example, have very limited word counts. You need to get to the key points quickly and concisely — no waffle at all!
You can still use your own unique voice, but with practice you’ll find there’s a lot of flexibility in how you present that voice.
This is a difficult time for some writers but, if you can harness flexibility, you’ll find new income avenues you never thought of.