Thursday, June 19, 2008

Write What You WANT to Know

For all you writers out there, here are some more thoughts on the business of writing.

One of the cardinal rules of writing you’ll discover as soon as start reading some of the popular “how to get published” books is to write what you know.

Well, call me a rebel, call me what you may, but I definitely haven’t made myself a career in freelancing by always writing about things I know. Honestly, when I started occasional freelance work at the ripe, old age of 21, I wasn’t exactly brimming with worldly wisdom. (Who is?)

Sure, finding a niche can help. Since joining the Mommy Club, I write a lot of essays about life in the trenches of motherhood. I also frequently write about pregnancy – what to expect and what not to expect. Many of these articles are about things I’ve learned as a parent. But here’s a little secret: I actually started writing about parenting long before anyone ever called me “Mommy.” My journalism career had its roots in a marketing department for a hospital where I covered the parenting beat (among other things) and wrote tons of articles on topics like getting your kids ready for the school year and games to play with your baby.

I’ve gone back and read some of the articles I wrote in my BC (“before children”) days and I have to say writing about getting your child to sleep through the night is a whole lot easier than actually doing it, especially when you have a child who’s more afraid of Mr. Sandman than the Boogedy Man.

I supposed I’d be considered more of a parenting/pregnancy “expert” now that I have two kiddos under four living in my house, but I’m definitely not yet an authority on MRI magnets, managing big families, or homeschooling, or factitious disorder – all topics I’ve covered in articles. But just as I knew I always wanted kids and enjoyed learning about child development, I had a desire to learn more about these topics. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t all that pumped about writing an article on the physics of an MRI machine, but the paycheck for that one gave me enough incentive to start reading up on how the interaction between radio frequency electromagnetic fields and hydrogen nuclei inside the body in the presence of a strong magnetic field can create a crisp image. (See? You can sound like you know a little something about almost anything.))
While it can never hurt to have an area of expertise – from politics to parenting and everything in between – one of the things I love the most about being a writer is you never stop learning. You may eventually find a “home” where you most feel comfortable writing. In my case, I’ve recently started narrowing my focus and sticking to parenting and faith-based writing with an occasional health story sprinkled into the mix. But nothing’s off limits. Anything I’d like to know about might be something worth querying. (Don't discount doing PR work for nonprofits you care about or corporations that do interesting work either. I don't do much PR work these days, but this type of writing used to pay a lot of my bills.)

The bottom line is if you're inquisitive and a good writer, you can write about virtually anything. Your job is to convince an editor or publisher that this is true.

So here’s a new writing rule I’d like to toss out there: Write what you want to know.

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