How to Succeed in Writing When You’re Not an Expert in Anything

A guest post by Carol Tice from Make a Living Writing

Do you worry that you aren’t qualified to be a writer?

I frequently have writers tell me they feel their chances of earning well from writing are doomed, because they’re not an expert in anything.

Or that it’s hopeless because they don’t have a college degree.

They can’t launch a successful blog, because there are already so many blogs farther along than theirs, with more authority.

We all know there are certain specialized writing niches that can pay very well, such as technology, finance, and healthcare.

What if you don’t know about one of these lucrative areas? Well, it does not mean the end of your writing career.

How do I know?

I don’t have a degree. And when I started out, I had no area of expertise.

I was a starving songwriter. No kidding.

What I discovered on the way to building a six-figure freelance writing and blogging career is this:

You don’t have to be an expert

Sure, it helps if you know a little bit about something.

I’ve gotten jobs writing for insurance companies because my dad sold insurance, and I had a fair idea of what it was.

I was a legal secretary when I was a teen, which has helped me get gigs writing for legal websites and law firms’ blogs.

I bought a house once…which helped me write stories for the real-estate section of a newspaper.

See what I’m talking about? Some basic acquaintance with your topic helps.

But I’ve also written about plenty of things I knew nothing about.

These topics include where Seattle’s trash goes, Washington State’s drunk-driving laws, venture capital funding for startups, and companies’ public offerings.

What writers need to know about

How did I get these gigs, if I didn’t know anything about their topics?

I knew the important thing — how to write well.

How to gather facts and organize them, and tell a story in a compelling way.

That’s what most markets hire writers for.

That’s what you’re expected to be the expert in — writing.

Here’s how you qualify to be a writer

You have to believe you have the skills to go out and find the story. To come up with ideas for pieces to write.

You have to have the confidence that you can do it.

Where do you get that confidence? From writing and writing and writing.

Try to get some feedback on that writing. Find a mentor. Keep improving.

The more you write, the more you improve. You’ll see that you have the chops to go out and write, and that others will pay you to do it. Gladly.

It isn’t hard to learn about a topic, now that we have the Internet. You can go out and learn about nearly anything in a single day, can’t you?

You can find experts in any field to talk to you, so you can learn about your subject.

What can’t be taught is the writing skill.

The reason they usually don’t hire “experts” to write is that most of them are awful writers.

That’s where you come in. You can write.

Not only that, but here’s the magic: nobody else in the whole world writes exactly like you.

You have your own approach and style to how you write.

That’s why you can launch a new blog and make it stand out and be a success, even now.

That’s why you’re qualified. And that’s the only skill you really need.

Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog, chosen one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2010/11 here on Write to Done. She puts on monthly free podcast trainings for her subscribers.

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26 thoughts on “How to Succeed in Writing When You’re Not an Expert in Anything”

  • Thank you for a timely reminder. An excellent article.

  • Awesome post with great take-away value!

  • Carol,

    Thank you so much for this article! It came at a time when I really needed it; when I find myself in exactly the same situation as you described.

    The statement that you made that caused me to sit back and really think was this:

    The reason they usually don’t hire “experts” to write is that most of them are awful writers.

    In fact, that single sentence caused me to reread this article three time over. I have no college eductation nor do I have specialized expertise in any field other than the two seemingly disassociated areas of computers and gardening (how’s that for polar opposites).

    Thank you again for a post that came at exactly the “write” time when I am struggling with this exact challenge.

    The best of success to you,
    Steve

    PS. this one is definitely going into my file folder under inspiration and motivation! sdm

    • Yes, yes, yes! I should have put that in the story.

      Editors hate experts. Most of their writing is just ghastly. They’re always getting submitted articles from experts hoping to get some free publicity, and the vast majority of those are trashed, because they stink.

      Early on in my freelance writing career, I won a contest at the L.A. Times real estate section, and then the editor wanted me to write features for them. I was petrified.

      “Shouldn’t I be a former realtor or mortgage broker or something?” I asked him.

      “God, no!” he replied. “Have you ever seen what realtors write?”

      He begged me not to learn anything further about real estate, and to report the stories in a way that lay readers would understand. I was the perfect test subject — I knew a bit about real estate from personal experience, but not a ton. He wanted to be sure I wouldn’t end up speaking industry jargon and writing over readers’ heads.

      Writers underestimate the value of their skills. I always say, give me about 24 hours and I’ll BE your expert…and I bring my writing chops with me, which is what editors really need.

  • I’m always astonished when people think you need to be an expert in something to be a writer. In fact, as you say, the ONLY thing you need to know is how to write. And this just takes practice!

  • Anoop says:

    Carol Tice, a nicely written article.
    I just happened to read this article when I returned back after a casual walk thinking about the next blog post that I’m gonna write. I was thinking about the right topic at that time. I had one and was visualizing it so as to bring that into my words.

    Call it as a coincidence; what I was practicing daily was put into words through this article.

    This article clearly describes what it takes to be a writer and I’m one among them. These words have captured my attention,

    “You have to believe you have the skills to go out and find the story. To come up with ideas for pieces to write.” “Not only that, but here’s the magic: nobody else in the whole world writes exactly like you.”
    “You have your own approach and style to how you write.”

    A great source of inspiration for writers all over the world.
    “Both Write to Done” and “this article”.

    Keep up the good work.

    Note: If anyone is interested please find time to read my blog – http://emotionsreloaded2anoop.blogspot.in/

    Regards,
    Anoop

  • Great article and inspiration for me to keep at it. I have a background in nursing, pediatric/neonatal, elementary school nursing, teaching, being a wife, mother, grandmother, moving, pets, heatlh, and the list goes on when I sit down to actually list it. There is no reason I can’t make it as a writer and thanks to this article I am renewed.

  • PJ Reece says:

    Carol… too true what you say. I had a regular job writing cover stories for a news weekly although I had no training as a journalist (nor any training at writing of any kind). At one of the Christmas parties, one of the career journalists asked the publisher why I got these plumb jobs, and the publisher said, “Because PJ can tell a story.”

  • You really don’t need that much experience in some topics to write on them well. I always think it is a good idea to choose a particular niche as a freelance writer, but even then you do not have to get a college degree in the subject to market yourself as an expert in that niche.

    As for starting a blog, it helps if you write on something you have at least some knowledge on if it is your first blog. But once you get the hang of it you’ll be surprised by how many topics you can become very knowledgable on very quickly.

  • GOODSTUFF says:

    LOL — copy/paste is a good way to start — LOL

    post lots of photos/pictures

    a good idea is do not choose a particular niche — random is ok, lots of tags

  • Yes, Carol…”it helps if you know a little bit about something”…of if you’re older (like I am–at 66) “a little bit about a lot of things.” Yes, I determined my blog would be eclectic…a potpourri…which, by the way, probably isn’t the smart, business-approach to things because presumably ‘niche market’ factors high in success.

    In any case, I’m doing fine, even if my way of business flies against the grid norm.

    Purpose of my blog? I just wanted folks to drop by and get a little shot of happiness or provocation to see something differently.

    And I thoroughly agree that you get better at this writing business as you hone your craft with steady attention to it. I write every day from 7 to noon…then “Break time”…I’m off to other things (usually observing everything coming across my visual or auditory horizon is fodder for future posts)

    So, good piece, my dear…Love the bullet points style of writing. I had to get used to doing more of that, as I write for the Web and “thank you, Susan Johnston of urbanmusewriter for today’s post lesson on Web punctuation and grammar.See? I’m already applying your tutorial…

  • perfect article for me at least…

  • E. R. Cervantes says:

    I’m kind of leery about writing. The problem is, I’m not proud of my life . I’ve read book about people or article of life. My life has been rough. I’m have been committed and lost years of my life, for the wrong diagnosis, I hated life and the family that put me there. Still, I remember what some of the doctors would say write your feeling out , you might relieve your self, from stress , hate and learn how to care. This is why I will try to write, I’m not a very good speller, so I it come out right. Wish me luck

  • PJ Reece says:

    Good luck, E.R.Cervantes. Here’s an idea: write from the point of view of someone who is “not proud of my life”. Sounds absolutely compelling to me.
    PJ Reece recently posted..Pity and Fear: why we love tragedyMy Profile

  • HELL YEAH! \(*O*)/
    Bruno A. Pradal recently posted..What is a freelancer?My Profile

  • Shelley says:

    Wow, this is a great inspirational article. Who would have thunk it, from songwriter to freelance blogging and article writing. I often think, “hey I’m not an expert in anything”, so thanks for the examples of how you’ve made yourself into a successful writer even in fields where you didn’t know much. This is very encouraging. I really enjoyed reading this.
    Shelley recently posted..Power of MLMMy Profile

  • I normally find topics which is absolutely for pros, but this was a cool topic even pro writers should read. I always keep in mind that when I write, I should write something I should be proud of showing my teachers and my friends, then the quality comes by itself.
    Howtosection recently posted..How to Search By Image Using Google Image SearchMy Profile

  • Kristen says:

    Is there anywhere to find out more information on how to work with experts effectively? Any books or other resources anyone would recommend?
    Thanks!

    • I’m not sure, Kristen — I learned how to do interviews by doing them. Doing dozens and dozens of them, over many years.

      Quick tips: Listen a lot.

      Ask them what you haven’t asked about that they think is important to this topic

      Ask them who else you should talk to who has good expertise on your topic.
      Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..How to Attract Quality Freelance Writing Clients With Your BlogMy Profile

      • Kristen says:

        Hmmm yes, OK.
        I am wondering how one can most effectively extract information from them in an organized and content rich way. Ie – I can ask all the questions in the world, but there may be a lot of unnecessary info to finally get to the meat. And it may take us BOTH a while to best articulate it. For both written and live or recorded interviews.
        Let me know if you think of any other resources?
        Thanks!
        Kristen

        • Study your topic and prep some questions beforehand. I don’t usually need over 30 minutes. You do want to be efficient and not waste experts’ time.
          Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..How to Attract Quality Freelance Writing Clients With Your BlogMy Profile

        • Hi, Kristen.

          Here are some ideas you might ponder. And this is where the premise of this article breaks down, just a bit.

          True, you don’t need to be an expert; however, you do need to research the topic enough ahead of the interview to be able to ask pertinent questions. If you don’t research, how do you know the answers are “meaty” or not? How do you know what to even ask?

          Additionally, are you writing the article and then getting corroborating “evidence,” or are you getting the information, both from research and interviews, and THEN writing the article. See the difference? If you write the article first, even in your mind, then you will be judging their answers on your perceptions of the topic. The result is that you hear the answers, but do not listen to the interviewee.

          What might not be meat for a pre-planned article could be the meat for the REAL article. Furthermore, additional, “non-essential” information for the current article might be fodder for an additional article.

          Write out your questions beforehand – common sense – but then study them and arrange them in a logical sequence, one leading naturally into the next. Create a natural flow for the interview. Asking questions is very similar to writing an article. A good, logical sequence makes for a good interview. Understand in advance that you might not get to ask all of them. They might not all be necessary as the interview progresses.

          Finally, here’s a little trick I learned when an interview start to get off base, chasing rabbits. We are taught to never use close-ended questions in an interview. That is, don’t ask yes/no questions because they dead end. Even so, have a few ready or be able to come up with some for times when the interview wanders. This can create a dead-stop, allowing you to guide the interview, either back to the main or towards another path.

          Steve Maurer
          Maurer Copywriting
          Steve Maurer recently posted..Is Your Home Page a GPS or a Laundry List?My Profile

  • You raise a great issue, Steve. Sometimes, you talk to one person or see a piece of news, and you get an idea for a story, which you pitch and get assigned.

    Then, as you talk to people, you find maybe your angle isn’t exactly right — or that there’s a more interesting way to approach this material.

    When that happens, you go back to your editor and just tell them what you found out. Then, ask them which way they’d like to go. Often, I find editors will pivot the assignment to the new slant if it’s more interesting.

    But the key is to know at least enough to know you’ve got a solid idea before you send it to an editor! And you get that from talking to experts.
    Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..How to Attract Quality Freelance Writing Clients With Your BlogMy Profile

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