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Is 'Write What You Know' Bad Advice?

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Beyond being a blogger here and at my own sites, I’m a freelance writer who works with a number of clients to provide web content, ebooks, and other pieces of text. So, naturally, I follow a number of freelance writing blogs. One theme that keeps popping up for freelance writers and bloggers alike is the idea that you should write what you know when creating content.

It makes sense. When you write about topics that you understand inside and out, you’ll save time. In the freelance world, that also means that you’ll make more money, since you’ll be able to do, for example, five $50 articles per day instead of three.

When you write what you know, you’re also able to give better advice, since you have experience or a broad knowledge base. Relying on other websites for research about a topic can be your downfall, since not every writer out there is accurate, honest, or complete. This week, we’re featuring the medblogging community, and I’m sure you’ve all seen health-related blogs that were clearly not written by doctors. For someone without much experience using the Internet for research, those blogs are actually dangerous, since they give poor advice that will be followed without the supervision of a doctor.

A third major advantage to writing what you know is that the writing will be easier. This point is especially important to bloggers, since starting a blog – even one that isn’t updated more than two or three times per week – means that you have to be able to post hundreds of times every year. If you don’t know a lot about your blog’s topic, that’s going to be rather difficult.

So, there are a lot of really excellent reasons to post about topics that you understand and enjoy. There’s a reason that almost every freelance writing blogger out there covers this tip – it makes sense.

Most of the time.

In case ya’ll haven’t noticed, I tend to go against the grain. I don’t share the same opinions as many of my peers, or I like to at least try to look at things in a different light. It’s a turn off for some readers, but that’s ok, because going against the grain and talking about the other side of any issue can really help other readers (and myself) expand how we think about a topic. I’m in no way saying that “write what you know” is always bad advice. In fact, most of the time, it is good advice, for the reasons I’ve listed above.

But sometimes, “write what you know” doesn’t allow us to grow and expand. We get stuck in a rut, we become an insular community, and we don’t actually add any value to our blogs or to the Internet in general.

When I first started freelance writing, I worked for a client who, frankly, didn’t care about quality as much as she cared about keyword density. The articles and blog posts I wrote for her could be mostly generalized fluff (i.e. common knowledge and filler material rather than any meat); she didn’t care. I did care, but I needed to pay my rent more. So, I took job after job about whatever she sent me. Dog grooming. Identity theft. Real estate.

A funny thing happened while working for her. I found out that I actually am interested in real estate, one of the topics she sent me. I knew nothing about mortgages or home improvement when I started, but it opened the door for me to do some research about the topic. I bought some ebooks and even some print books about the topic and took the time to really learn about what was happening in the news in regards to the housing market. Today, I’m still no expert on real estate – but I’ve helped a number of my friends get started with purchasing houses, and I feel confident enough in my knowledge that I’m not afraid to take on assignments dealing with the topic.

If I had stuck to “what what you know,” I would have never discovered my interest in real estate. Branching out can introduce you to entire new worlds, and I’ve found that knowledge is often closely related. For example, my basic knowledge about real estate means that I understand credit reporting on a basic level as well, which has come in extremely handy as I’ve paid off my debts and worked to raise my own credit score.

Let’s scale down a little, though. When you work outside of the “write what you know” box, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to find totally new passions in life. You can work within your niche and still expand your horizons, so to speak.

For example, let’s say you blog about gardening. You might have an amazing garden, producing the prettiest flowers on the block and vegetables that win prizes at the county fair. You can grow a pumpkin that’s big enough for me to hollow out and live inside…but can you do so organically? Organic gardening is a hot topic, and if it is one that you don’t cover, you’re missing out on a lot of traffic. Don’t know anything about organic-massive-pumpkin-growing topics? Find out.

A lot of people get caught up in the idea that they can’t learn how to do something, because it’s too hard. You need to wipe out the negativity. You can learn how to do anything in the world with the right instruction. You can understand any topic you want to understand. “Want” is the key word here. If you don’t believe you can do something, or you go into it with a bad attitude, you’re not going to come away from any experience actually learning anything about the topic.

Don’t let your fear of the unknown stop you from growing as a blogger. Don’t let yourself remain on the track 100 percent of the time. Don’t let your blog get boring. A common complain among readers and bloggers is that even blog in a niche covers the same topics. Yes, you have a different voice than other bloggers, but if you still cover the exact same information every single day, your blog will get stale. Give readers something more. Give yourself something more. Go out there and learn about new topics or explore different sides to the same old arguments. The day we stop learning is the day we die. Even experts have something more to learn.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She doesn’t actually want to live inside a massive pumpkin, but is not opposed to someone giving her massive pumpkins so she can make massive pumpkin pies.

Image credit: sxc.hu


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  • Nikki

    It’s funny because I actually talked about this on my writer blog – but I think that writing what you know is important, but not always required. Because honestly, if I only wrote what I knew, people would get bored pretty quickly! My one-liner is “write what you WANT to know” – because if you can research something, and research it well, you can honestly write about anything. And then you’ll know it 🙂

  • Rhys

    I do agree with you. That “writing what you know” puts people in the bubble, and my most successful posts are always ones that are new concepts I’ve researched & beat most people to the punch 🙂

    However, it does need to be related to your interests. For most, blogging is a hobby, so any topic that you are not interested in will not get you any sort of traction.

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