About nine months ago, I found my dream client by happy accident (or a very skilled Facebook algorithm). It was fun, quirky, dedicated to my one true love, theatre, and—gasp!—actually accepting applications for freelance writing jobs. I was thrilled, but there was one tiny hitch: my writing and editing career to that point had been solely focused on journalistic news and the content marketing space.
How can I show off my knowledge of the theatre space if I’ve never written about it before? I asked myself. I had only a few relevant samples out there, the last time I’d hopped on a stage there was a Bush in office, and there were probably thousands of other people who were far more qualified and had more relevant expertise than I did. After all, it’s not like I could pull my Broadway-obsessed brain out of my head, stuff it in an envelope, mail it to the site’s editor, and have that speak for itself.
If you are facing this conundrum, you are not alone. Like dating in your teens, you may be currently dabbling in a niche that pays for your dinner and will suffice for now, but isn’t your one true love. Yet when the possibility arises to contribute to something you love, you feel unprepared, unqualified, and like you are the poster child for imposter syndrome. Then there comes the issue of merging your two interests together professionally: will anyone take you seriously as an authority on financial forecasting if you suddenly start tweeting out your posts on your favorite thing in the world—dog shows?
However constrained you may feel by your current resume and portfolio, there are ways you can branch out and write about topics that truly resonate with your soul. After all, isn’t combining written art with the things you love the point of launching a career in content creation in the first place?
In the case of landing my writing gig, I had a couple of things going for me that helped me make the leap out of my professional comfort zone and into my personal comfort zone. Here’s what I learned from the experience:
1. You Need an Online Presence of Some Kind
My first reaction upon reading that I needed to provide multiple relevant samples in my application was complete apprehension. As I’d never before written professionally on theatre, I was concerned that my samples would not accurately represent both my writing ability and my devotion to the subject.
Luckily for me, while spending the day after my birthday last year in a hungover, self-loathing state, I convinced myself that I was going to cosmically negate the previous night’s poor decisions with a positive, career-altering life change. Sitting in the dark and clad in a complete sweatsuit, I launched a WordPress blog related to all things theatre called The Jazz Hand. Ba-dum-chhhh.
My positive, career-altering life change lasted a mere week and produced a paltry three blog posts before I became too bored/lazy/overwhelmed/[insert every other excuse for not writing] to keep it up. However, those three posts were just enough to help get my foot in the door for this new gig.
I get it. Writing for pleasure (and for no money) is not what you want to be doing after writing professionally all day (for money). But having a personal blog devoted to your adored hobbies can be enough to be taken seriously in your application. Do you have to update it with a new article every day? No. Do you need to be the thought leader in your respective space? No. But just putting something of quality out in the world that relates to your niche of interest can show potential clients that you take their industry seriously—and that you have something to contribute to the space.
2. If You Can Marry Your Passions and Your Day Job, Do It
In some cases, it may also be possible to preemptively link your two worlds. In my application, I took a risk and included a blog post I’d written for the Content Standard about what musical theatre could teach you about crafting a content strategy. The article leaned heavily on the topic of content creation, but it was a better, more professional representation of my writing ability and demonstrated a deeper understanding of musical theatre by being able to apply it to another subject entirely.
This might not work for all your freelance writing jobs, but look for opportunities to inject your niche into your current gigs. This lends personality and unique angles to your articles that publications will unlikely get from anyone else. Your writing will be set apart from that of others, and you’ll have a leg up when it comes time to get another, more interesting gig. And hey, if you can find a way to connect the latest and greatest marketing techniques to your affinity for salsa dancing, have at it!
3. Your Pitches Can Speak Volumes about Topics You Love
Not all freelance writing jobs will give you this chance, but pitching article ideas for the site you’re looking to write for is a great way to sell your love for the subject matter. Not only does this demonstrate that you have read the articles on their site and understand their content goals and audience, but it also gives you a chance to tout your own knowledge in the space. This is also your chance to demonstrate the unique strengths you bring to the table.
Even if the application for the site doesn’t specifically call for article pitches, this doesn’t mean you can’t include any. Don’t go overboard with a 30-item list, of course, but naming one or two sample topics you’d be interested in writing will certainly get the wheels in your editor’s head turning.
4. You’ve Got to Own Your Interests
Over and over, freelance writers are advised to find their niche and stay in it, like they’re driving on the highway. And, truth be told, it’s good advice: you won’t get anywhere you want to go very quickly if you keep veering off different exits and onto unhelpful side roads for the sake of a buck. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to switch between lanes every once in a while as you travel down the road of your career, particularly if one is better suited to your speed at the time.
The concern is always there that a brand may be wary of working with you if your expertise is not laser-focused on its own subject matter. It may sound cliche, but this is where you must take a leap of faith and own the different parts of you that make up the whole. True, some brands might not like it—but some may love it. And when you’re known as the writer who is a champion at writing about making the leap to the cloud and perfectly cultivating a garden, it can’t hurt to present a three-dimensional identity. People are not meant to be two-dimensional, and they sure aren’t meant to write two-dimensionally. Let go of the fear that people outside your niches will judge your leaps, and you’ll start to see they perhaps appreciate you for them even more.
It can be tough to venture outside of the subject area with which you are most familiar and comfortable in your career, but armed with the right tools, you can make an impression and land a gig you’re passionate about. And oh, the writing gig on the theatre site I applied for? It eventually turned into a job as the site’s managing editor. Dreams do come true.