Writing: Specialization vs Generalization

Should Writers Specialize or Generalize? There is no right or wrong answer, Specialists earn recognition and esteem, risk complacency.

There has been a raging debate over the pros and cons of writers specializing.

You may believe that specialists are more "qualified" than generalists. There are certainly some valid points to support that theory.

The question that comes to mind, though,  is, What qualities define a successful writer?

Of course, that's not easily answered. What, after all, is success?

The answer: There is no one-size-fits-all for writers.

In times past I believed that anyone worth their salt should definitely specialize. I really believed that a writer should pursue continuing education, join professional organizations and seek notoriety by way of certificates of accomplishment and awards for excellence. Today, I question whether this is a wise foundation for an individual who wishes to pursue a writing career seriously or  join the ranks of such as Robert Frost, Agatha Christy, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy and so many others.

Specialization vs Generalization?

I dislike this discussion. There are as many answers as fish in the sea, well — no –probably a a whole lot more. Every writer, being a creative human being, is truly unique. What works for one will not work for another. No two individuals have the same balance of talents, the same opportunities or the same resources on which to build.  Besides the shades of variance between specializing and generalizing are countless.

Specialists May Have an Edge

Specialists, generally speaking, focus on the perfection and precision of  execution in a very narrow area of interest. They work diligently to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to their chosen interest or the specific tools they use to produce a product ready for general consumption. They claim an element of authority by virtue of the countless hours they spend focusing attention on detail in those specific areas. They rarely deviate from the specific form and formats set for their chosen focus. There's little room for deviation and experimentation. .

Specialists generally pay dues to professional associations; and, they network with others of similar bent. Among their credentials, they list certificates of accomplishment and even industry awards for excellence. 

Key selling points for specialization: writers who specialize become uncommonly familiar and skilled in those particular areas. They don't need to stretch very far to "get it right".

Oh, I do admire those who choose to specialize for their accomplishments and persistence. At first blush, they do seem to have a great deal to offer. And yet, while there are definite advantages to being selectively employed in limited areas, I do believe that too focused an approach ignores one of the most basic skills of creative people in general, and writers specifically…the ability to question and explore and dig deeper.  .

Where the Argument for Specialization Falls Flat

A solid foundation in language and discipline are indeed essential qualities of writers who take their work seriously. It does require countless hours of focused practice to achieve proficiency in the craft or writing.

Continuing education does not require degrees and certifications. All writers, big and small, are (or should be) sponges . Writers can't be satisfied until they see clearly who, what, why, when, where, and so what. In the beginning, writers strive to learn their craft… but before long, they discover that formal education is limiting, slow, tedious and sometimes misleading.  The creative mind is playful and not so quick to be satisfied with the obvious.. It trips through life drawn on by curiosity and wonderment and filled with awe.

Both association membership and networking are time consuming, if done right. Of course, it's always nice to chit chat with others who share many of the same challenges you do. But there's little to be gained networking others who are defensive about their work or unaware that networking requires reciprocity.

Beyond that, writers can be the single harshest critics of each other. Many have reported that hashing out pesky issues with others in the harsh light of day and misplaced critiques from well-meaning cohorts are the surest ways to suck the life and immediacy out of a creative work leaving it uninspiring fodder for further use and development in written form. And they are equally destructive the creative efforts of sensitive writers.

Then, there's all those well-deserved certificates and awards. Perhaps some get a kick out of hanging the best of the best on their walls. But, in practice, most wind up in drawers or boxes out of sight and forgotten..

Actually, I think we too often overlook the single-most important skill of all writers: their ability to ask questions and probe for answers beyond the obvious – their ability to ask "what if….?" and "if not, why not?"

It's true, the specialist may be competent to do that. But complacency is in insidious companion. Just as children asking "Who am I?" "Where do I come from?" gradually grow into adults who stop questioning the essence of being specialists grow and mature and stop stretching. Like those of us who live so long in a house that we fail to notice the cracks in the wall and the cobwebs in the corners of the living room, specialists risk getting so comfortable in their expertise that they leave little room for improvement and growth. ..

Author: 7577JMM

Retired - Published Author, Editor, Webmistress, Artist, Musician