UPDATE: An Advice Manual for College Freshmen Is Now My Main Project

I just finished Austin Kleon‘s Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered—and I’ll have a book review for you guys on Tuesday—and somewhere in the process of reading the first two chapters, I found my niche. When you start a blog, the first thing every advice page will tell you is to find your niche and identity your target audience before you write the first word. This tip was a stumbling block to me: what the hell should I write about? I don’t know about anything! Can’t I just blog about miscellany? For me, niches are elusive. As a class jack-of-all-trades, I’m good at a lot of things but not particularly great at any of them. I don’t have just one major hobby to occupy my spare time; I read, I write, I play video games, and watch movies, and look at food porn. Writing about food porn is not exactly the most promising career move.

In Show Your Work!, Kleon disagrees with this logic. He writes,

You have to flip back through old ideas to see what you’ve been thinking. Once you make sharing park of your daily routine, you’ll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You’ll find patterns in your flow.

When you detect these patterns, you can start gathering these bits and pieces and turn them into something bigger and more substantial. You can turn your flow into stock. For example, a lot of the ideas in this book started out as tweets, which then became blog posts, which then became book chapters. Small things, over time, can get big. (63-64)

This stood out to me. Not only was it strikingly dissimilar from everything I had ever read on becoming a serious blogger, but it assuaged many of my fears about appearing unprofessional online. Until this point, I stressed over how I would keep up this blog when I go back to school in August. Something about the way Kleon presented his argument clicked with me: I don’t need to worry that university will detract from my ability to write quality blog posts, because keeping busy will actually give me more material to work with!

For several years, I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming an essayist. The problem with this, is that blogging is almost exactly the same as writing essays; you still need a niche. Unless you do something wildly, creatively unique, however, the search for your market is extremely difficult. What could I possibly be qualified to talk about? I thought. Then, suddenly, it clicked. Somewhere in the process of reading the first two chapters of Show Your Work!, I had my niche: my unique knowledge and expertise that belonged to no one else but me.

When I walk at my graduation ceremony in December, I will be a month shy of 25-years-old. Do the math: I took twice as long as the going rate to get my undergraduate degree. While, yes, I am equipped with a marketable skill set as a result of higher education, that isn’t the most important knowledge I gained in the process. My niche boils down to one simple—and personally irritating—fact: because I worked eight years on a four-year-degree, I know exactly how to finish an undergraduate degree on time; I know every mistake and every regret, and, more importantly, I know exactly how they could have been avoided.

Hindsight is 20/20. While it’s too late for me to right the wrongs of my early college years, there is still hope for the next generation. I decided to write a handbook for freshmen—comprised of information neglected by similar titles—to help them successfully navigate their college years. When inspiration struck, I wrote furiously. The first 20 pages churned out more smoothly than any first draft I’ve ever written. It felt right. It feels right. It’s my niche.

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you before you started college? Let me know in the comments!