Sharalyn Hartwell is the National Generation-Y columnist for Examiner.com. In addition to being the voice of the 20-somethings, Hartwell covers news—specifically fashion, skin care/cosmetics, search engines, and Internet browsers—for Huliq.com. She also is a regular relationship columnist for AskMen.com and staff writer for the new men’s online magazine TheRugged.com, launching in January. Hartwell talks about her return to writing, developing a niche as a freelancer, and more, in today’s Write On! Author Q&A.

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When did first start writing?
I have loved to write for as long as I can remember. I specifically remember a time in the 1st grade when I brought home a class assignment. We were supposed to write a short story. We were in the 1st grade, so we got one piece of paper. I brought it home with SEVERAL pieces because I had so much to say.

I’ve been away from writing regularly for years. I’ve missed it. Once I started, the love has just come rushing back. I don’t know how I stayed away so long.

Why Y? How did you end up with a specialty in writing about Gen Y?
One day on a whim I decided to apply for the Examiner.com, just for something fun to do on the side. All the topics I initially was interested in were covered. So I thought it would be fun to write about just girly stuff–fashion, work, boys, etc. So, I suggested I be the Female-20 Something Examiner. They liked my submission and asked me to cover Gen Y as a whole instead, rather than specific to a gender. I couldn’t be more pleased now. This has opened up a host of opportunities to me. I still get to write about girly stuff, but it’s fun to dive into guy world sometimes too.

What are some of the specifics in writing about Gen Y that differ from your other writing?
For my Examiner column, I really try to think of the Gen-Y mind collectively. As cheesy as it may sound, I really consider this a mantle of responsibility. I’m trying to not only find information interesting to Gen Y’ers, but accurately represent them. I allow a lot of my personality to come through in the writing, but I don’t always voice my opinion. I focus more on what I believe Gen Y typically thinks. I take great care in doing Gen Yers justice.

What is your ultimate goal with the series?
Ultimately, I hope to help shed some light on all the negative stereotypes out there about Gen Y. I don’t see things with rose colored glasses, I know there are reasons those stereotypes are in place (I know plenty who are the epitome of the negative generalizations) but I know even more who refute every one of them. I think driven, hard-working, and caring Gen Y’ers deserve more credit than they get. I hope this series helps them receive that, in some capacity—whether more traffic on their blog or an employer who maybe starts to understand a little more.

How important is it to have a writing specialty?
I think it is crucial. I’m learning that more and more all the time. There is just so much content out there (especially in the online realm) and so many things you CAN write about, you have to narrow it down. If your clips are all over the place and you don’t have a clear focus, how can you make progress? I didn’t intend to have a Generation-Y specialty, but am now eternally grateful it has happened that way. Many opportunities are stemming from it, it has been incredible. If I hadn’t had a focus, well, I’m sure most of the opportunities wouldn’t have presented themselves.

How do you go about finding freelance gigs?
It really comes down to focus. Hone in on targets and make a plan. Two of the other publications I regularly write for are men’s online magazines. I had an idea and submitted a query. It worked. So I did it again. It’s becoming a secondary niche for me.

What is your favorite part about being a freelancer? The greatest challenge?
I LOVE that, even if I have been in my little office for 14 hours and haven’t talked to a real live person (just lots online), I feel fulfilled. At the end of the day I always have something to show for my time. I have stories. Some I’m really proud of, some are filler. But, I always have stories and that makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something, living the dream!

The greatest challenge for me is just balancing my time. I could happily spend all my time writing. But, I have to literally force myself to make time to read, to network, and to target publications to build my exposure and of course my clips. I’m still working on this one, but I think I’m getting better.

Advice for writers?
Don’t hold back and believe in yourself, your ability to tell a story. More than anything, I write because I love it. But, I also write because I like to share. I love to tell stories, I love to try and find new angles on a common topic. We all have to believe in our ability to share information, to engage an audience. If you don’t, it comes through in your writing and you’ll never succeed in the way you want. When I hold back, I’m never as satisfied with those pieces as the ones I channel all my energy and passion. Writers especially can sense when someone does that and it’s so much more enriching to read.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
It’ll sound funny, but I wish I had known this really was what made me the most happy. I would have gotten to it sooner. But, that’s okay. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had along the way. To be a good writer—a good storyteller—I firmly believe you need a cache of your own experiences/stories to pull from. All the experiences—good and bad—help me to become a better writer.

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