One of the first pieces of advice beginning writers receive is to “write what you know.” But once the honeymoon of your writing career is over, how do you expand what you know?
The obvious types of research – reading, interviewing, visiting key sites, personal experiences, etc. – will definitely expand your storehouse of factual material. But perhaps you need to explore new territory and actually step into the subject of your article, gleaning first-hand experience as a means of research?
When you write what you know, you can provide your reader with “insider” information. You have “been there, done that” and your confidence will assure your reader that you can be trusted. Your writing will come alive with your excitement of having experienced the setting or activity yourself. Becoming a “temporary expert” not only strengthens your writing but also will broaden the base from which you write.
Years ago I wrote for a national sports ministry. When I was asked to write the new soccer handbook, there was a problem. Even though my children had played soccer, I was always the mom in the stands who sometime had to be reminded which goal was our goal and often cheered at the wrong time or for the wrong team. So when I began to write the handbook, my son’s high school soccer team friends stopped by in the afternoons to demonstrate the different soccer kicks and moves. One stood on either side of me, held my elbows, and another picked my foot up in the correct position for the kick of the day! I learned to write about soccer moves not on the field but in the middle of my den. But as I learned I was able to bring life to the handbook.
Others have had similar experiences. Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, worked low-paying, entry-level jobs in three areas of the country to understand how women forced into the job market by welfare reform could survive. Phillip Reed, Consumer Advice Editor at Edmunds.com, decided to write about the car business so he got a job as a car salesman. This allowed him an “inside look” at the car business and the life of a car salesman. Yvonne Lehman took violin lessons to understand the feeling of her character in her story, “Name that Tune.”
So write what you know? That’s always a good place to start. But when you have exhausted your first-hand knowledge, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and learn a new skill. Then, write what you know (and just learned).