Every writer has heard it time and again, and it's not without merit: Write what you know.
began freelancing, I was just out of college, so what did
I write about? College.
I wrote profiles of collegiate entrepreneurs,
I wrote editorials about college life... and after a while,
I really wanted to move on and write about other things. But
I didn't feel qualified.
I didn't let that hold me back for too long.
what you know is a very good starting point. But that's
all it is. It's a place for you to go to get your feet wet,
and a place to come back to when the tide gets too high. But
it's not a place to stay for very long.
piece of advice, in my opinion, is Write what you WANT
to know. One of the great perks of being a freelance writer
is that you get paid to learn about things.
So, what do you
want to learn about?
If I had
completely disregarded Write what you know and simply
opened a page of the Writers Market at random, figuring I'd
send a query to whichever market my finger happened to touch,
my career would be very different today. I might have ended
up writing about finances, miniature horses, and aerobics.
And you know what? I would have hated it.
no experience with any of the above topics, and there's a
good reason for that: I never really WANTED to have experience
with them. Since I have no real passion for any of the topics,
if I had to write articles about them, it would feel like
you ever stop to think about the things you always wanted
to know, but never found out? Or all the interesting people
you wanted to meet? Or the problems you've encountered that
you wanted solved? Now those are article topics.
What keeps you interested?
exercise. Fill in the blanks with your answers.
If time and money weren't factors, I'd love to take a course
2. I've always wanted to ask (person you know)______________
3. I've always wanted to know how __________________________
4. My life would improve if I could only _________________________.
5. When I have a sleepless night, it's usually
because I'm worried about ____________________.
6. The worst injustice I can think of is _________________________.
7. When I was a kid, I was really passionate about
8. I have always been embarrassed to admit that
________________________really interests me.
9. In my life, I have overcome ___________________________________________.
10. If I could volunteer for just one cause, it would be __________________________.
11. I wish I were better at ___________________________________.
12. I have always wondered why _________________________________.
have lots of answers for each statement. That's great! Each
answer is a possible article topic. Most of them won't be
specific enough (or perhaps too specific) for an article,
but they should give you lots of new starting points from
which to brainstorm angles.
Expert in Training
of freelance writing as your own opportunity to learn about
all the things you ever wanted to know, and don't worry if
you're not yet an 'expert' in any of these areas! Among my
favorite writing assignments have been topics in which I had
no previous expertise:
about a woman who started her own greeting card business for
Woman's Own. Of course, I've never started my own greeting
card businessbut the topic certainly interested me,
and I wanted a good excuse to learn more about it.
about how 'media overload' affects children's development
for KidsGrowth.com. I'm not even a parent, let alone an expert
in child psychology. But I've always wondered how increasing
media immersion (TV, Internet, video games, radio, etc.) has
affected people in MY generation.
about book packagers for Writer's Digest. Okay, I had written
for a book packager at that pointbut just one, and I
was eager to learn more about the industry and its players.
It gave me the perfect excuse to contact book packagers and
learn more about the market. And If not for this article,
I would never have written Celine Dion's book... I sent my
resume and samples to one of the packagers I interviewed,
and an editor there wound up calling me years later with the
articles about interesting inventions for Zooba.com. How much
fun did I have learning about how Velcro, aspirin, and Post-It
Notes were invented? This made for great dinner table conversation
for weeks. My father always fancied himself a bit of a mad
inventor, and I guess the gene spilled over to me. I devour
these quirky stories of how the human mind approaches problem-solving
disabilities-related article I've ever written. Was I an expert
in this area when I began? No. I have a brother who has Down
syndrome, so I had the benefit of some extra understanding,
but I only became an 'expert' by writing about this topic
over and over. Each time, I learned something new that I really
wanted to learnnew legislation for people with disabilities,
profiles of amazing people with disabilities, issues of discrimination,
Passion & Curiosity Come Through
to broaden your writing horizons, be sure to think about two
things: your passions, and your curiosities. You don't need
to write only about topics that mean 'everything' to you;
you canand shouldalso write about the little things
that bounce around your brain. Have you always wondered how
the custom of kissing under the mistletoe evolved Or
how Mexican jumping beans jump?
wondered what it feels like to go back to school in your 40s
or 50s? Have you wondered if there's a way to stop all that
junk mail and those telemarketing calls from darkening your
preliminary research, formulate a query letter, and...
da! You get paid to find answers to these pressing questions,
or learn more about your hobbies and passions.
it a challenge. Keep learning. Use your writing as a vehicle
to answer every question you never had time to answer before.
There are lots of people out there who have wondered about
those very same things, and you can help them!
need to be an expert. You need to be a great researcher, and
you need to be willing to ask questions. Lots of questions,
sometimes. But that's one of the great things about writers--
we're such curious creatures.
what you want to know, and soon enough, it'll be what you
About the Author...
Jenna Glatzer is the editor of http://absolutewrite.com, the author of 14 books, and Celine Dion's authorized biographer.