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I turn 60 this year, and find myself ever surprised by how little I know and how much I can exploit that little knowledge. I’ve had a lot of schooling, a good deal of business interaction, and I’ve written a billion words by now. Yet I find that it all melts together into a stew called experience. My saving ability is flexibility – I can use my experience to help me write on just about any topic.
There are some “secrets” I can share:
First do your research. You don’t have to be an expert on every (or any) topic you write about. It certainly helps to have one area of specialization – in my case, its finance – but that’s not the essential skill for a successful freelancer. Rather, you need to be able to research and assimilate the topic at hand, and mix it with your own personal experiences and perceptions. I was a business analyst for many years, and the trick there was to stay at least five minutes ahead of my clients in terms of expertise. Free lance writing is not that different.
Write to teach. It’s a subtle point – write your material as if you were explaining the content to yourself. You really can’t do that without first attaining clarity, and that is the point. If writing is teaching, your writing requires the clarity that a good teacher brings to a topic. I usually know when I’m ready to start writing: I’ve had my aha moment and feel I can reasonably explain it to the average reader. If I start too soon, the ride is bumpy and the content is sketchy. But ponder for a while longer, and the words flow like warm honey.
Use every stitch of experience. You probably have a lot of different experiences that you never think about in terms of writing. Did you go fishing as a child? Been to countries with really strange food? Have relatives you can’t stand and can’t figure out exactly why? It’s all good, and all helpful in relating to your material and to your readers’ attitudes. I recently wrote a series of articles on a viral disease, and it brought back memories of my undergraduate and post-graduate work in biology. Even though I hadn’t thought about the material in years, I found myself understanding the story, the jargon, the whole world of the content with a sense of wonder – the brain can retrieve the most arcane stuff if it first understands it well.
Stay humble. You have a lot to be humble about, don’t you? Haven’t you had your share of mistakes, bad calls, wrong decisions, inappropriate actions, language you wish you could take back? Enough slaps in the face, you start to learn a little – but just a little. Keep your good memories close but your bad ones closer. The good ones warm your soul, but the bad ones, if you can turn them to your advantage, will drive your craft.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2011 Eric Bank, Freelance Writer