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Expanding Your Point of View
by Shannon Caster

At least once a week I read or hear a standard piece of writer’s advice—write-what-you-know. This adage has served many writers well, helping them become specialists in a particular field of writing. In fact, this piece of advice served me well when I began writing, until I realized I had inadvertently narrowed my focus too much. Sure I was an expert at writing short pieces for children’s magazines, but there were other markets out there waiting for my expertise if I just expanded my point of view.

At one point in my life, my day job was teaching elementary school. I taught kindergarten, first, second (sometimes all in one grade), and fifth grade. What does that mean for my freelance potential? I can tap into educational markets, teacher magazines, parent magazines looking for educational topics, and anything related to education and
students. Furthermore, I list my teaching credentials on cover letters to support that I’m writing-what-I-know. So what’s your day job? Do you work for a doctor’s office? Then you have professional experience in this area, even if you aren’t an MD or PhD. You might have great ideas about surviving the flu season in the office environment, and you could even grab your boss for a quote. Work in retail? You have the perfect angle for an article on “The Insider’s Scoop on When a Sale is Really a Sale.” Don’t discount your job or past jobs in providing you with a wealth of ideas and credibility to write on the subject.

Next, think about your home life. I have two children, three dogs, a cat, and a husband. For me this translates into possible freelancing in the areas of parenting, pets, and dating/marriage. Sure, I’m not dating now, but I dated at one point in my life. I can still remember “Surviving the First Date with Humor” or “Top Five Outdoor Dates for Spring.” Life makes you an expert in many ways. Not a day goes by that my kids don’t give me something to write about. Today I could have written articles on “The Modern-Day Tooth Fairy,” or “When Your Child’s Ready to Walk the Dog,” and “Are Picky Eaters Born or Raised?” Can you guess what my morning looked like? There’s a large market out there waiting for your personal essays, filler articles, and even lead articles if you are ready to give it a try.

By now you’re probably seeing a pattern emerge. Your life experiences have provided you with multiple facets in which you can tap into for freelance opportunities. Now it’s time to get out your pencil and paper, or open a new document on your computer, and start brainstorming. First, make two columns: “I Know About” and “Potential Markets.” Use the prompts below to think about yourself and fill in the “I Know About” column. Then go back and write out potential markets related to your answers.

  1. What jobs have you held? Target freelance markets in these areas. Even stay-at-home parents can find newspapers, magazines, and website needing articles on stay-at-home-mom/dad topics.
  2. College degree? Technical school? Internship? What areas did you study that you can now write about?
  3. Family relations (i.e. parent, spouse, grandparent, sister, twin…)? You can write about your experiences in these roles.
  4. Family roles (i.e. cook, Ms. Fix-it, carpooler, soccer dad, storyteller, budget wise shopper…)? What is it that you always seem to be doing for your family?
  5. Hobbies? There’s a magazine for almost any hobby. A great place to search hobby markets is right here in the Guidelines Database.
  6. Do you have pets? Dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, saltwater aquarium? There are markets galore in the pet world.
  7. Do you volunteer (i.e. church, school, library, walking neighbor’s dog)? What ways to you make a difference?
  8. What magazines do you read regularly? Hint: If you’re always reading Reader’s Digest, why not submit a funny story of your own?
  9. What big events have happened in your life lately? New baby, marriage, buying a new home, surviving a winter blizzard, divorce, son going away to college—find a new angle to common events and sell it.
  10. Where have you gone on vacation? What things have you seen in your hometown? You can write a travel piece or article on sightseeing destinations in your own town to sell to magazines outside your area. You can give readers the “insider” perspective on your hometown.

Finally, if your list of potential markets isn’t overflowing with ideas that will take you days to dig through writer’s guidelines, here’s one last tip. Ask your family what you are passionate about—you know those things you are always commenting on, complaining about, or rambling off some new fact you read about. Sometimes it takes others to expand your point of view.

© Copyright 2008, Shannon Caster

Shannon Caster resides in Portland, Oregon where she can be found reading at the park, watching her kids at sporting events, walking her dogs, or writing on her laptop. Shannon frequently writes for children, parents, educators, writers, and any other audience willing to listen. Shannon welcomes visitors to her website at www.shannoncaster.com.

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