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Every writer out there, from novelists to professional bloggers has heard this old piece of advice: “Write what you know.”
But what if what you know isn’t what’s in demand?
When I first started writing online, I wanted to write high-minded pieces about politics, science, and religion. One of the first things I discovered at the time was that, while I landed a science-writing gig fairly early on, politics and religion didn’t pay well.
Since I didn’t have a big name, or big credentials, paid gigs about politics and religion were pretty well out of my league. Instead, I did a little research. What was in demand? I found that I could be paid for writing about window treatments on a catalog site, and about theme weddings for a lifestyle site. No one wanted to pay me for my analysis on politics (so much for the poli-sci minor), but they were ready to shell out for my thoughts on window treatments.
Later, I caught a break when someone asked me to write about finances. It was 2006, and my only regular gig was writing for a science web site; all my other income came from writing anything anyone would pay me for. When offered a regular staff writing gig for finances, I jumped at it — even though my entire knowledge of finances revolved around the fact that I had racked up too much debt in college.
That’s when I decided that writing what you know is great, but it won’t pay the bills if what you know isn’t in demand. So I learned to write to demand.
Become an Expert on Writing about an In-Demand Topic
My journalism training taught me that you don’t actually have to be an expert on something to write about it. Instead, you need to know how to write. Rather than worry about about knowing everything about a topic, learn a little bit about it (to start), and then write well.
I like to say that, by now, I’m an expert at writing about finances — even though I don’t have the “official” credentials of a financial professional. You, too, can learn to write on topics that others are willing to pay for, without being an expert. Here’s how:
- Learn research skills: Efficiently research the topic in question. Develop basic research skills that can help you learn the fundamentals. Over time, as you write more on the subject, you can add commentary and your own philosophy.
- Interview others: If you can’t write from a place of your own expertise, use the expertise of others. Develop interview skills and learn how to tell others’ stories in a way that is engaging. Interview experts to add depth and legitimacy to your writing.
- Practice, practice, practice: The best way to improve your writing is to practice. The more you write, the better you’ll become. In the end, clients wants someone who writes well. If you can show that you write well, and know how to organize information and tell a good story, you’ll land gigs writing about what’s in demand, no matter your lack of expertise.
While I ended up mainly in a niche (finances), I can write about more than just money. Recently, I’ve written about baby-proofing homes, law, and technology. While financial topics are my main focus, there are a few non-money blogs that I write for.
You don’t need to limit yourself to a niche to make money as a professional blogger. There are thousands of blogs looking for good writers. Show that you are capable of providing well-researched and sourced content, and presenting it in an interesting way, and you’ll have plenty of work.
Don’t worry about writing what you know. Instead, focus on writing what you can learn.