Diversifying Your Writing Portfolio

Writers love to write.  That’s why we do what we do, write?   Ummm…right?

In finance, advisors always tell clients to diversify their portfolios.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  That kind of thing.  So, as a writer, is it wise to diversify your efforts?  For instance, if you are a novelist, is it wise also to write short pieces?  Dabble in article writing?  Do a little nonfiction on the side?  What about some freelance editing?  Or penning for the silver screen?

It all depends on your temperament.  For me, I like a little bit of everything.  I like to write what I want, when I want.  My muse inherited the overeager gene, I think.  And it is, in part, driven by practicality.  If you write to make money, then the financial advice to diversify might make sense.  At the same time, you don’t want to fly in so many different directions at once that you have a nervous breakdown and never write anything at all — or worse, turn out subpar material and leave everyone dissatisfied, including yourself.  So how can you diversify your writing portfolio without going bananas?

Write what you know.  Okay, we’ve all heard this advice before.  But use it when considering whether or not to diversify.  If you love writing sci-fi novels but you are also totally into cars, or mountain biking, or opera, then you may be able to turn that passion into articles for magazines or trade publications.  You’re not diving into some subject matter that is completely alien to you.  You are simply using your writing skills to share your knowledge with others in a different venue.

There’s an added bonus to this as well: article writing requires a slightly different skill set than writing novels or short fiction.  This can provide you an opportunity to hone and develop your craft in unexpected ways.

Write what you want to know.  Let’s say your next novel is a historical piece.  You’re already delving into records and historical accounts, digging up gems of knowledge with which to adorn your characters, setting, and plot.  Since you’re doing the legwork already, why not turn some of those gems into stand-alone articles?  Again, with this strategy you aren’t wasting effort or distracting yourself unduly from the work at hand.  Economy of motion is crucial to avoid writer burn-out and a decline in productivity.  Will writing an article get your novel written?  Of course not.  But you are giving yourself a different opportunity to capitalize on your new-found knowledge.

Make writerly activities your new day job.  There was a great article in Writer’s Digest online just recently on making money as a “Word Nerd”.  Freelance editing was the subject.  If you have a gift with grammar and an eye for detail, freelance editing can be a terrific way to use your passion for language, expanding your portfolio and padding your wallet at the same time.  Editing is part of every writing project, whether it’s a school term paper or a company website.  Offering your assistance to companies and writing buddies (for a fee, of course) can be a win-win situation for everyone.

What’s the bottom line?  Don’t be so expansive that you lose sight of your personal goals.  Writers are a fiercely independent lot anyway, and we like to set our own personal benchmarks for success.  Sit down and decide what you want to accomplish with your writing career.  If you just want to write novels, then diversifying isn’t for you.  If you’d like to have multiple money-making avenues open to you, then it’s worth exploring ways to turn your existing efforts and knowledge into additional sources of revenue.  Perhaps you aren’t in this for the filthy lucre, but you just want the freedom to pen whatever inspires you.  Whatever those goals are, articulate them for yourself.

Ultimately, you’re the only one who can decide whether diversifying is right for you or not.  But keeping yourself organized and your goals in sight and using the principle of economy (getting the most mileage out of your existing work) will keep you from fraying at the edges.

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