Archive for April, 2011

Writing What You Know

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

If you’ve ever taken a journalism class, you’ve probably heard the adage “Write what you know.” The longer I’ve been writing professionally, the more I’ve discovered about why that’s wise advice.

It can be tantalizing to consider the myriad of topics you can choose to cover as a writer, and easy to think that you can write effectively about pretty much anything. As a newspaper reporter beginning my career 20 years ago, I enjoyed the variety of stories I covered and worked hard to learn enough about each topic to produce a credible story about it. But as I churned out story after story, I felt like something was missing.

Later, when I began my freelance work, I didn’t dare turn down any assignments because I figured I’d be foolish to do so. It was hard finding enough work to bring in a decent income, so I jumped at the chance to take on every project that came my way. Yet, something was still missing.

What was that missing ingredient? Passion.

Whenever I wrote about topics that I didn’t passionately care about, I could manage to communicate fine, but my writing wasn’t nearly as compelling as it was when I wrote about topics that I loved. And, I discovered, I naturally knew a lot about what I loved.

Writing what you know means writing about topics you care enough about to have invested time and energy into getting to know about them. You have to be interested in what you know; otherwise, you wouldn’t bother getting to know much about those topics in the first place.

So “write what you know” usually also means “write about what you love.”

What do you find yourself thinking about often? Into what activities do you invest your limited resources—such as time, energy, and money? Your answers will reveal what you most know and love.

What do you most look forward to reading? Well, why not write what you want to read? After all, if you don’t want to read what you’ve write, it’s not worth writing about it. But if you write about what compels you, your passion will come through in your words and compel other people to read what you write.

I asked myself those same questions and am glad I did. Once I focused on writing about what I knew best—which was I also what I loved most—my career took off, and I began to enjoy my writing so much that it didn’t seem like “work” anymore.

Of course, it doesn’t take long to figure out from reading my work that what I’m most passionate about is faith. Focusing on inspirational writing and editing was the best career decision I ever made. It wasn’t a lucrative choice from a financial perspective, but I enriched my life overall by choosing to focus on what I knew and loved. And, over the years, many readers have let me know that my work has enriched their lives, too. That means a lot!

Just like me, you probably have at least several different topics you’re passionate about (besides faith, mine include movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, national parks, animals, and nutrition—all of which I’ve written about professionally from time to time). Whether you love sports, business, music, cars, gardening, or even something obscure (like the endangered roundnose grenadier fish that lives in the deep sea or the rare U.S. flying eagle cent coin minted in 1856), you should write about it. Letting people know why you care can motivate them to care, too.

So write about what you love, and you’ll be writing what you know. When you do, your words can inspire other people. You win, and so do your readers. What a way to develop your career!