Want to Grow? Write What You Don’t Know

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I’ve seen a number of stories/posts lately providing writers with basic “how to” advice. When I encountered the following concept, I read right past it:

Write what you know!

A no-brainer, right?

Well, I’m going to take the opposite position here and argue that if you want to improve as a writer, you should focus on those topics that you know do not know well.

Really.

The reason is this. If you know a topic very well — so well that you can write about it with little or no effort — then you’re not being forced to think very much during the creative process. This leads to repetition of the same phrases and structures, introduction of jargon into the piece, and a subtle signal to readers that your work is only for people who are already well-versed in the topic.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. This is the problem with academic writing. Professors and researchers spend their whole lives with the same set of material. Thus, their writing develops a ho-hum, jargon-ridden feel. If you’re not a member of the club, it says to the reader, then you’re not welcome.

How to combat this? Write about new topics and areas where you may have some familiarity, but nothing approaching expertise. This will force you to focus very hard on the writing as you work with a new universe of ideas.

And talk about a bonus. Who wouldn’t want to sit down for a few hours and enjoy thinking through new concepts — and then write about them for others to explore!

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