Transitioning to a different writing field

After you’ve been writing about one thing for a while–software, in my case–you may come to a point where you’re not getting the work you want in that venue. Or you may just be ready for a change. How do you jump from writing about software (with a specialty in my case in accounting software) to something else? The solution is not that you need to go to school to get more skills each time, but you just need to sell yourself a little differently.

What I suggest (and do, for that matter) is package myself differently. For example, I don’t treat being an accounting software writer (one of my recurring writing themes) as an indivisible unit; instead, I sell myself as a writer who has a specialty in accounting. The difference is that I break my skills up into pieces, so instead of a writer who only writes about accounting, I show them that I:

  • write procedures
  • write about software
  • write about finance
  • write about the underlying programming
  • write about hardware
  • write about installation requirements
  • write about APIs
  • write spec sheets
  • write and test online help
  • design documents
  • do documentation project management
  • do Word, Excel, and FrameMaker macro programming
  • train writers in writing and tools
  • hire and manage writers

… and on and on. When you start breaking your experience into separate skills, it can become quite an impressive list, even if you’ve only been writing professionally for a few years.

I tend to think of this as covering up a big circle. (There’s no deep significance to this image; I just do.) If I think of the circle as being something I can only cover with exactly the shape they’re looking for, I’m out of luck. But if I think of being able to cover portions of it with chunks of my experience and skills, I’m looking to make the area that’s not covered as small as possible, with as many fuzzy edges to it as I can get. I can then sell myself by saying “Okay, I may not know a lot about [whatever the new topic is] yet, but I have every other skill you’ll need and then some.” And where possible, I show that there is already some overlap from a personal interest or skill that can help fill in the experiential or knowledge gaps between what I’ve done and what they’re looking for.

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