Jack of All Trades: Defier of Convention

As a blogger you’re warned not to be a Jack of All Trades. You’re told that writing about a diverse set of interests will confuse your audience. Social media gurus say, “Keep it simple stupid. Find a pigeonhole that suits you, find a basket to put all your eggs in. Repetition is the mother of a solid brand.”

I say, too much consistency can be a bad thing. If this is something you’re already feeling, dare I ask:

Is Your Blog Haunted by Your Brand?

Blogging your heart can be a tug of war with your brand.
Blogging can be a tug of war with your brand.

Bloggers, when you venture into uncharted waters, does a siren call steer you back to shore? When you go outside the lines, do you feel a push from an invisible hand? When you sit down to write, are you haunted by your brand?

The ghost of entries past tells you to stay on message, not to upstage your previous pages, but to maintain a constant image. Framing your sightline in its claws, it gives you tunnel vision. It’s on a mission to build recognition. It eats at your inspiration. It cuts down on confusion.

While you want the world to know you’re a complex person, your band is the red-eyed shadow that stands in your place. Perception is its passion. Consistency is its conviction. Recollection is its religion.

It hammers your multi-facets into the same round hole. It chops the branches off your skill tree, leaving you with just a pole. It values your parts greater than your whole.

Lost is the tug of war for control of your keyboard. Possessing your fingers, your brand has automated your writing. It toils on an spell to charm your target audience, a formula to fulfill their desires, to keep them coming back for more.

Consistent to a fault, your brand does the same thing over and over, expecting better results. It chants its slogan until it loses all meaning. It paraphrases past works, playing off their success, diluting your statements with each iteration. It’s a one trick pony galloping down a one track mind, a broken record playing the same one note joke. It took a big a idea and rationed it out into several little ones. They’re getting smaller all the time.

There’s a difference between being dependably good and giving your readers a sense of déjà vu. If they have to look at the date your article was published to know if it’s new, you have a problem. Having a recognizable brand can be great for drawing people in, but if it comes at the expense of interesting writing, it’s time to consider an exorcism.

Repossessing your Inspiration

The Triforce of accomplishment
The Triforce of accomplishment

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

So is mediocrity. After all, there are bad habits too.

If an article is a burden to write, it’s going to read like one. If your brand is giving you writer’s block, give it some wiggle room. Expand it to encompass other things on your mind. Just because you’re an authority on one subject, doesn’t mean you should deny yourself the thrill of discovery.

Bloggers specializing in writing advice should share excerpts from their fiction. What better way to establish your authority, than to show the proof in your pudding? This opens the door to other ways you can bring your audience behind the scenes. Introduce them to types of writing they’re not used to seeing. What better way to teach us how to write a treatment, than to show us the pitch for what you’re working on? What better way to inspire others, than by revealing the bag of tricks you draw from?

Your topic need not be so specific that it’s dogmatic. You should have the freedom to dip your foot in the waters bordering it. If you’re an author who likes video games, why not write a piece that deconstructs the plot devices they use? Why not challenge game developers to improve characterization (especially of women)?

Who says artists should be limited to one medium?

If you’re a writer with a background in photography, give us something cool to see. Good text is served by good imagery. Frame your words with good design. If you can’t come up with a context for your pictures, call them “writing prompts” to inspire your readers. Be a Jack of all mediums, a master of creation.

Once you’ve established your brand, let it branch out into other directions. If you’re afraid an entry will cause confusion, add an explanation that ties it in.

3. Mediums Enlarged

Explore other Genres

Hot on the heels of adapting The Chronicles of Narnia for the big screen, screenwriter Stephen Mcfeely gave a talk for my class. He mentioned how he and his writing partner were offered every fantasy script under the suns (plural), and why they rejected every single one. They didn’t want to be known as the children’s fantasy guys. So they passed on a dozen projects until Captain America: The First Avenger landed in their laps. They wanted their brand to be about more than one thing (granted they went on to work on Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but you get where I was going).

My screenwriting professor said agents prefer writers with at least three screenplays under their belts: one that’s personal, one that’s funny, and one with broad appeal. The theory is everyone has a journal entry in screenplay format kicking around in them, agents need to know that you can write something more. They have to be able to sell your versatility, which is hard if you’re married to just one category.

Writers shouldn’t feel like they’re bound to one shelf in the book store. They need to explore. Their cover models need to be able to swap their trench coats for armor, their helmets for veils, their flowing gowns for mud slicked rags. Put them through the entire wardrobe.

Be a Jack of all genres, a master of fiction. Take two tones and make a warped combination. If your fear of the dark is less than inspiring, why not let your sense of romance in? If your detectives are just going through the motions, why not contaminate their crimes scene with buckets of ectoplasm? If your world is overrun with vampires, isn’t it about time they get a visit from aliens? (If this concept is already a novel someone please point me in its direction)

4. Genre Enlarged

Stretch Your Brand to Fit other Interests

If you’re an author blogging to raise awareness of your fiction, you have a lot more freedom than you might think. Your brand might whisper, “Stick to posts regarding writing,” but you’d be surprised how many of your interests can be made to fit that description. Your brand need not shut you out of these topics, you just need to invite it in.

Pursue a range of passions and write them off as research. Every first hand account is something to draw from.

I’ve written how urban exploration can improve your writing, how memory palaces can play into your pitch sessions, and how the right music can contribute to the tone of your text. These are interests I have outside of my medium, but I found a way to fit them in.

Authors can talk about how their Yoga routine directly impacts their writing. There are connections between exercise and higher brain activity, this isn’t such a stretch (so to speak). Teach your brand to be flexible. Be a Jack of all interests, a master of fun.

My interests could stand to be more diverse, but these were the first ones that came to mind.
My interests could stand to be more diverse, but these were the first ones that came to mind.

Be Your Target Audience

Bloggers are told to have a target audience in mind. This is a good idea when you’re promoting your work, not when you’re composing it. The last thing you need when you’re staring at the blank page is performance anxiety. Writing with an awareness of your audience is like trying to pee at a trough urinal, looking to the ceiling waiting for something to flow. Sure, it can be done, but it’s not going to be your best work.

Write what you want to read first. Be your target audience. If you have eclectic tastes don’t let them go to waste. Sometimes this means mixing mediums, sometimes it means crossing genres, and sometimes it means bringing other interests into the conversation. Variety is the spice of life, consistency is the oatmeal of the internet. Be a taste maker, broaden your audience’s palate.

My brand strikes again
My brand strikes again

10 thoughts on “Jack of All Trades: Defier of Convention”

  1. This is definitely something I needed to hear. I’ve been branching out a bit lately, going beyond writing tips and discussions of my own novels into various types of research and academic writing. The idea of alienating my audience has been a concern for awhile, and it was definitely good to hear someone say that branching out can be a good thing. I definitely like the idea of being known for writing a variety of things (as it is, my blog features articles, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and multimedia).

    Also, I wholeheartedly approve of the recolored The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past sprites.

    1. Everything, I’ve seen on your blog and all of the areas of interest you describe serve your writing. They showcase your process, establish your authority, and draw readers in, in a way that short advice articles can’t do. I love what you’re doing and I think it all fits under one brand.

      I applied the color scheme from the Link to the Past sprites to the original designs too. I haven’t had a chance to play with them since Mario Paint.

  2. This reminds me of a number of my critics who tell me not to change character perspectives (which they refer to as PoV) within the same chapter/scene of a book because it confuses readers. I thought that today’s problem was shorter attention spans. I would think that changing things around would keep interest alive.

    Entertaining as always, Drew. 🙂

    1. That’s an interesting thought. Perhaps you could come up with a literary device that allowed your audience to know you were about to shift the POV in the middle of a scene.

      Glad you were entertained. Thanks for reading

  3. I enjoyed reading this not only for the content, but the words and sentences are strung together so poetically. I love how you incorporate your different interests into your posts on writing. It keeps your blog so fresh and entertaining and it gives me ideas of where to turn to for inspiration in my own writing. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Thanks for continuing to read it. I keep wondering if my poetic Rod Serling Twilight Zone opening monologue structure is irritating, but people seem to like it.

      I love the niche you’ve carved out for yourself on dream and fantasy based stories. What really hooked me was how unique it was. I hadn’t seen anyone doing anything like that before. Your personality rings through everything you do.

      1. Oh, I lovvvvvve how you structure your posts! Don’t you change it! 🙂

        And, thank you for your comments regarding my blog. I still haven’t revealed all of myself yet and what I just posted now scares me. I can’t help what I dream and I hope I am not judged for it.

      2. I’ve had my share of pieces that I was afraid to share, and like you, I front loaded a few of them with big disclaimers. It’s tough to approach a subject you feel deeply about that you’re sure won’t have universal appeal, but I guess that’s what makes this sharing and not marketing: being honest and personal.

  4. I struggled for ages to find a niche for my blog, then eventually gave up and decided that people who enjoy reading my fiction will also enjoy the potluck of randomness that is my blog. I separate my main categories into different pages so people can easily find one topic area or another, but other than that write what I want to and let the stat-chips fall where they may! Some food for thought in this post though, thanks!

    1. I like that approach too. I prefer to write what I feel like and hope that it connects, but I find it doesn’t hurt to bookend my pieces with explanations for how they tie into my central theme (albeit loosely).

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