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Writing What You Know

“Write what you know.” That’s what workshop faculty and other writers told me when I first started writing for publication in 1999. My first thought was, “Duh, what do I know—-that anyone would be interested in reading?”

What do you know?

What unique knowledge do you have? Did you grow up in an exotic location? Were you a military brat? Are you a preacher’s kid? Are you a preacher’s wife? Parent of a special-needs child? Whatever your situation, you know something that the world needs to know.

Everyone has unique personal experiences or expertise. When I started writing for the Christian market, I used my experience as a church musician as subject matter for articles and devotionals. My working life in business (printing, publishing, insurance, personal finance, real estate) provided numerous topics to write about. My column for Hometown Magazine was called Home Biz. It was a series of articles about buying, selling, financing, and maintaining your home.

Exercise: Make a list of topics on which you have more knowledge and/or experience than the average person.

Who wants to read what you know?

Many aspiring writers have a pet topic that they want to write about all the time. Others think they don’t have anything interesting to write about. Either approach shows that the writer isn’t considering the reader. Readers are your customers. They like to read about themselves or other people with similar interests. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, get to know your readers. How old are they? What kind of work do they do? Are they parents? Teachers?

I write for the Christian and the secular market—Sunday school papers, devotional magazines, or general interest magazines. Most of my Christian readers attend church, know the Bible, and are interested in spiritual growth. For the local magazine articles I write, I do profiles of local people who have an special hobby, a unique outlook on life, or an interesting history . I also publish inspirational pieces for senior adults, some nostalgic, some humorous. Writing for the general or secular market gives the Christian writer a platform to present the Christian culture and message  to those who never read “churchy” publications.

Exercise: For each of the topics you listed above, list who might be interested in knowing more about this subject. Then, use your market guide or Google to find publications that use articles or fillers on those topics.

What would you like to know?

Once you get started with defining your expertise, you might discover that you need to expand your knowledge with research or further education. Online or library research might give you the material you need. Perhaps an online course or continuing education offered through a local community college or university would be better. A writing partner with expertise different from yours might also be in order.

Exercise: Select a chronic disease that you are familiar with like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Make notes on everything you already know about the subject. Then search the web for credible sources of additional information. Can you interview someone who has the disease or a doctor who specializes in it?

So, readers, how do you react when someone says, “Write what you know?” Please comment on this post and let us know. If you receive this post by email, please click on the title of the post to go to my site. Scroll down to Leave a Reply and comment there.

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4 Responses to Writing What You Know

  1. Tracy Crump April 8, 2017 at 8:16 am #

    Great article, Emily. We “know” a lot more than we realize. I write a lot of Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, and when you get down to it, they are just slice of life stories that readers can relate to. We already “know” our own stories.

  2. W Terry Whalin April 8, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

    Emily,

    Writing what you know is a great strategy for writers–particularly for personal experience stories that only you can write. I’ve written a lot of those articles over the years.

    I’ve also operated on the premise that I should write what I don’t know too. If I don’t know the topic, then I have to research and interview others and learn about the topic in order to write the article.

    Terry

  3. Emily Akin April 8, 2017 at 6:18 pm #

    Thanks, Terry. If you’re curious about a topic to research and write about it, it’s likely that your readers are will be interested, too.

  4. Emily Akin April 8, 2017 at 6:19 pm #

    Thanks, Tracy. Hope you’re feeling better. I saw your FB post about being sick after the Louisville trip.

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