You’ve heard the same piece of advice over and over: Write What You Know. But at some point, even the most worldly and educated of writers will run out of topics that interests him. When you limit yourself to Write What You Know, you miss out on all of the subjects about which you want to know, which is a grave injustice. Just because you aren’t an expert on herbology doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a few books, grow a few plants and become educated on the subject. Writers — particularly freelance writers — must be willing to do the research necessary to learn about new things in order to keep their writing fresh.
There are two main instances in which you might have to write about something that lays outside your realm of expertise:
1. You’ve been assigned a writing project by a client; or
2. You are interested in writing an article for a magazine or other venue.
Both of these circumstances may require that you perform the research necessary to complete the project. In the former, you’ve been assigned a project, which means that another individual or business has commissioned you to research, understand and write about a particular topic, one with which you may have no prior experience. In the latter, you might have been cruising through Writer’s Market and stumbled across a particularly lucrative magazine for which to write, which spurred your interest. Or maybe you’ve just always wanted to learn about the magazine’s subject matter.
In any case, it shouldn’t be something you force yourself to write about, but something you want to learn. For example, I was once asked to write a series of articles about cross-stitching, which has never interested me. I turned down the project in favor of one about medieval jousting, which sounded fascinating. In this case, I decided to write about what I wanted to know.
Write What You Want to Know: Make a List of Topics
One of the best ways to start writing what you want to know is to make a list of the topics that interest you. Browse the Internet and look for subjects that spark your curiosity and leave you wanting to learn more. Once you’ve developed a substantial list, start looking for markets in the categories. You might not find magazines or publishers for all of them, but at least you’ll know which are potentially profitable. Often, the most obscure of topics will result in the highest-paying assignments because there are fewer authors with experience or knowledge in those areas.
Write What You Want to Know: Answer a Few Questions
If you’re stumped and can’t think of any interesting topics, try asking yourself a few questions to get the creative juices flowing:
1. If I could volunteer for any non-profit organization, what would it be?
2. What do I worry about more than anything else?
3. If I could meet a famous person, who would it be, and why?
4. Of all of my friends and family, who has the most interesting career? (BONUS: you’ll have an expert in your pocket)
5. I wonder how _______ works?
6. How would I improve my life if money and time weren’t factors?
These questions should bring about latent curiosities that you’ve never indulged.
Write What You Want to Know: Think Before You Agree
When it comes to accepting writing projects from clients, think about the subject matter before you agree to the project. Is it something you want to know about? Can you see yourself working through the research necessary to complete it? When you write about something you want to know, the project doesn’t really seem like work because you’re benefiting just as much as your client or readers. To accept a project about something you aren’t interested in is selling yourself short as a writer, regardless of the back-end payment.