Eric Ahrendt Writer

Write What You Know

Posted on October 31, 2014 by

If you’re an aspiring creative writer, it’s a good bet you’ve received that piece of advice: Write what you know. It’s not often given to business writers, but the reasons it makes sense still apply.

If you’re a staff writer for an organization, you’re hearing, reading, talking and thinking about your company’s products, services, markets, etc. all the time. You’re also familiar with your industry, your audience, and your company’s overall objectives. When you’re given an assignment, knowing all that makes it possible for you to deliver a document quickly that’s very close to final, without having to interview experts, look up information in related documents, read websites to learn about the industry, and so on. You’re writing what you know—or, put another way, you know what you’re writing about.

In contrast, if you’re a freelance writer, you’re an outsider who doesn’t swim in that sea of company knowledge. To write an eBook, or web page, or presentation or other marcom document, you need to acquire that knowledge quickly and in enough depth to do your assignment. And even once you have, you’re not really confident in that knowledge because it’s still comparatively shallow. You’re feeling your way along as you write, like someone in a very dimly lit, unfamilar room. You can’t write very fast and are constantly wondering if the way you’re writing about the product will pass muster with readers (and your client) or will maybe reveal you right off the bat as a dilettante.

I’m often in that uncomfortable position, which makes it all the more enjoyable when I’m not. When I write about a subject I know little about, I’m slow and tentative. When I write about a subject I know well, I’m fast and sure-footed. I imagine staff writers must feel that way most of the time; for us freelancers, the only way to get that feeling is to write a lot for a client for a long time.

Over my career, I’ve reached that point with several clients. It happens when I’ve worked for them for more than a year or two and have had a constant stream of documents to write. I became like a staff writer—I know enough to just sit down and write a blog post or infographic or script with a minimal amount of research. Writing with that kind of facility is a pleasure because you actually know what you’re talking about.

I suppose if someone wanted that feeling all the time, they’d become a staff writer. I think about that sometimes, but I’ve done it before, and staff positions have a downside: After a short while, writing about a narrow range of subjects over and over is boring. You also lose your ability to get a fresh perspective on your products and come up with original creative concepts. And then there’s the whole world of corporate life to take into account.

My point is that writing what you know is an entirely different and better experience than writing what you don’t know. Whether you’re on staff or freelance, it’s the place you want to be.



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Most of these posts are my opinions and observations about marcom writing; others are about somewhat-related subjects I felt were post-worthy. I'm just hoping none of my current clients leave me after reading these.


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