The Writing Community: What’s Your Expertise?

by Jami Gold on June 9, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Black diamond ski warning for Expert Terrain with text: Are You An Expert?

A writing career often doesn’t pay well. We might spend thousands of unpaid hours learning our craft, more time learning the business, and still more time getting our stories out to the world. And let’s not even talk about the issue of how most books—traditional or indie published—don’t sell all that well.

Because of that difficulty in getting established, many of us have day jobs. Or if we don’t have one now, it’s likely that writing is a second (or third or more) career for us (even if that previous career refers to being a full-time student, a struggling minimum wage worker, or a stay-at-home mom).

My point is that most of us didn’t start straight into writing without making a few detours along the way. To my mind, that’s a good thing. *smile*

As I pointed out in my post with advice for newbie authors, the non-writing experiences we have enrich our writing and can provide benefits to our writing career as well:

“Someone who wants to write murder mysteries would find any kind of career in law enforcement invaluable… Think of counselors or working in a counseling center and how many stories they’re exposed to. … Plus, people with those experiences are highly sought after by other writers. Imagine being able to make extra money by teaching workshops to writers about those things you’ve learned in your day job.”

I was recently reminded of how we’re likely all experts in something after I made my call for guest posts. I received proposals for all kinds of topics, and I had a hard time narrowing down the submissions to just a few posts.

(And if you submitted a proposal and weren’t chosen, I encourage you to post your wonderful ideas somewhere. Let me know if you do, and I’ll tweet a link for you. *grin*)

We Are All Experts

Sometimes our expertise might be writing related. Maybe we’re an expert in fitting writing into a busy life of work, school, or family obligations. Maybe we’re an expert in how to write a certain genre. Maybe we’re an expert in how to use or adapt a certain writing process or how to give insightful critiques.

But sometimes our expertise comes from non-writing life experiences, like the location we live, the hobbies we have, or that day job we may or may not enjoy. Or maybe our struggles or the obstacles we’ve faced give us experiences that resonate within storytelling.

Have a book set in such-and-such city? You may know a writer who lives there (or used to live there) who can answer questions. Have a character who knits or welds? You may know a writer who knows how and can give tips.

I know writers with day jobs as graphic designers, editors, lawyers, psychologists, nurses, teachers, criminal justice employees, etc. All of those skills are helpful to our fellow writers for freelance work, consulting, guest posts, or workshops.

Sometimes we want a sanity check on our characters from people who have lived through similar experiences, whether that means struggles like racial and disability issues or obstacles like poverty and unwed motherhood.

In other words, this is yet another way the writing community is awesome. In fact, it’s because many of us come from a non-writing background or live a life full of unique experiences that our shared knowledge is incredible. And sometimes all we have to do is ask to gain insights. *smile*

We All Have Unique Experiences

It’s easy to get used to our life. Whether from self-doubt or sheer familiarity, we probably think we’re no one special.

You might even be scoffing at the idea that you’re an expert in anything. Yeah, you. I see you there, shaking your head and rolling your eyes.

But just because we’re used to our life doesn’t mean we have nothing to offer. Heck, every once in a while, we might meet someone new (who’s not a writer), and when we tell them that we write stories, their eyes will get big, and they’ll think we’re amazing—even if we haven’t published yet.

The concept of writing is new to them, so our experience, no matter how minor, is awe-inspiring. The same thing applies to the rest of our life: To someone without our life experiences, what we know or have survived might seem incredible. Maybe even admirable.

Our experiences with being in a car accident or fighting with an insurance company might be just the insight a fellow writer needs for their story idea. Our knowledge about the emotional struggles of dealing with a serious disease or how to train a horse might answer a question they need to know for their writing.

Our life and our life experiences are special. They’re unique, and they mean we have something of value to offer to the writing community.

We All Can Pay It Forward

I often joke that I’m pathologically helpful. There’s a reason I share my knowledge, struggles, and insights here on my blog and a reason I give away my writing worksheets for free. *smile*

But beyond that pathological aspect, I also know how much I’ve gained from the writing community: friendship, support, and knowledge in humongous, immeasurable amounts. So I enjoy “paying it forward” by trying to help the writing community in return.

That was part of my goal in opening my blog to guest posters for two weeks in July. Yes, I’ll be on vacation, so having people fill in for me helps me, but I also wanted to provide opportunities to other writers—opportunities to make a name for themselves as an expert, opportunities to reach a bigger platform, opportunities to do something they might not usually have a chance to do.

Giving opportunities is another way I can pay it forward to the writing community. And if we all have something to offer the community, that means we also all have a way to pay it forward and help each other.

So if you haven’t guessed by now, I was really impressed by the proposals I received. The ones I chose are all chock of tips, advice, and steps to help us learn new things. We’ll get two writing-specific topics and two topics about the bigger picture of the publishing process. And I’m super excited that I’ll get to share them with you. *grin*

Do you agree that everyone is an expert in something? Or that our life experiences can be valuable to share with others? Do you feel like you’re an expert in something, and if not, why not? Do you have expertise in an aspect of writing? Or does your day job give you special knowledge or skills? Or do you have life experiences that might be helpful to other writers?

Pin It
21 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Christina Hawthorne June 9, 2015 at 6:36 am

The way you approached this topic was excellent. Yes, I’m an expert in certain areas, but it’s taken me a long time to understand how that knowledge was valuable, especially to anyone else. The next step is to weave that knowledge more skillfully than I have in the past into a tale that isn’t preachy and gloomy. If I leave behind knowledge I want that it did some good and wasn’t viewed as self-indulgent or depressing. 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Hi Christina,

Exactly! We do take our own experiences for granted and fail to see how sharing those can be valuable to others. Good luck in figuring out how to best use and share that knowledge. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Sharon June 9, 2015 at 8:09 am

Jami-
I love that writers naturally want to pay it forward. It makes me proud to include myself in the group.
I think the fact that writers can disseminate information in an interesting and consumable way makes us more accessible experts. Everyone has knowledge to share or wisdom to impart. NOT everyone has the ability to divulge thier genius in a way the average person can grasp and use it.
Thanks for being that expert whose brilliance is easily accessible.

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Hi Sharon,

Ditto! Anyone who doesn’t have that attitude is missing out on a great sense of the community if you ask me. 🙂

Great point! Yes, our writing skills can help us find ways to share the information that we have better than many others. Others might have similar experiences, but the fact that we’re writers means that our experiences can be accessible to others. 🙂 Thanks for sharing that great insight!

Reply

Kimberley Cooper June 9, 2015 at 9:32 am

i just wanted to say that although I wasn’t chosen to write a guest post for Jami’s blog, I really appreciated the encouragement she gave me. It gave me some ideas on how to develop my idea further, so yeah, I wanted to say thanks. Oh, and I love the beat sheets, they are so useful 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Hi Kimberley,

I’m so glad! I felt bad for having to tell anyone “no.” (I’d make an awful agent–LOL!) *hugs* Good luck in further developing your idea!

Reply

E.G. Moore June 9, 2015 at 11:48 am

Jami-

Thank you for this topic. I’ve been struggling in a personal capacity on my knowledge in morbid circumstances and how I’ve found myself in a certain place to help others through it. (I believe in a higher power who’s lead me to them.) But your post opened my eyes to other things I have to offer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a place were artists/writers could offer their life knowledge to others and we could easily find them?

Thanks again!

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Hi E.G.,

Ooh! It would be wonderful to have a place like that. I’ll let my subconscious noodle that idea and see if I come up with anything. LOL!

And I’m so glad that you’ve found a way to share your knowledge with others who need it. 🙂 Thanks for helping others and for the comment!

Reply

Davonne Burns June 9, 2015 at 12:23 pm

This is a great reminder, especially for me since I don’t consider myself an expert at anything, except procrastinating. But you made me think. I’ve had a huge variety of jobs and experiences in my life. I think my age and those experiences have helped me grow as a writer and write more personally authentic stories. I know I like to help my fellow writers however I can even if I don’t have all that much to offer.

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 8:05 pm

Hi Davonne,

LOL! Yeah, many writers could probably fall into that “expert at procrastination” pile. 😉

But yes, there’s so much more to our lives–even the mundane stuff–that’s valuable to others, just because we can’t experience everything. To someone who went away to college, the experiences of someone who didn’t go or who went to a community college from home would be unique. And vice versa. Or the experiences of someone taking care of an ailing parent, or surviving abuse, or struggling to pick a major, etc., etc. Heck, for someone who married their high-school sweetheart, even the experiences of a bad breakup would be unique. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

Reply

Angie Arcangioli June 9, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Only recently I find your website. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and your worksheets. I’ve shared your posts with many.

When you posted asking for proposals, I did not send one. I have in-depth knowlege on some things, mostly street art, mixing paint, making a living as an artist and expat living. I thought: many other people have these same ‘expertises’.

I look forward to reading your guest posts.

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Hi Angie,

Thank you for all the kind words! We need a matchmaker service to connect those with experiences to those with questions, right? 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

Reply

Serena Yung June 9, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Oh! I really like this post’s perspective. A lot of people sigh that they can’t be a full-time writer and have to “settle” for being a part-time writer. I personally would not want to write full-time, partly because I don’t want to get resentful of my writing and characters if they aren’t giving me enough money to eat, partly because I’d feel obligated to write completely according to market trends and can’t do anything I personally want to do, and also I’d want more variety in my life experiences, so a day job not involving writing would be great in enriching my life and leading to more interesting writing!

So becoming a counselor one day would be very helpful to me in writing my characters; even being a psychology major and doing volunteer work related to counseling (especially my crisis and support hotline where you hear many, many stories!) helped me learn a lot that was informative to my writing. But your post adds an extra big pro for having a non-writing day job: being able to help OTHER writers with our expertise (not just help ourselves).

Lol I actually have a very high self-esteem so I do think I’m very important and special BUT I think EVERYONE is very important and special because God created us all to have our own missions. :D. That’s my belief, at least, haha.

Hmm what do I specialize in? Well looking in psych, I specialize mostly in theories and research findings on personality, interpersonal relationships, motivation, and social psychology. I know quite a bit about mental illnesses too because I’ve taken a course on abnormal psychology, plus I have several friends with mental illnesses who have told me about their experiences. Oh and this might sound awkward, but I might know a bit more about human sexuality than the average person does because I’ve taken the psych course Human Sexuality and its Problems. Now I’m not at all saying that I am extremely knowledgeable in these areas, just that I may know more than the average person about these things just because I’ve taken courses on them before!

Apart from psych knowledge from my degree, I read some interesting psych studies in online articles too. Assuming that none of these research studies and findings are faked (making up results in research unfortunately does happen, which is of course illegal), I’ve learned some useful information that not that many people know.

So for instance, remember us talking about the cynicism some people have about romantic love? Some people believe that ALL couples’ love will diminish greatly after some years, and yes, it seems most people’s love diminishes or at least loses the fire of passion over time, yet there was this study where some people married for a long time (even 20 something years or more) are STILL passionately in love with their spouse!! When looking at a photo of their partner, these couples’ brain activity actually resembles that of newly in love couples! I don’t remember if they asked participants to rate how in love they were with their partner, but I’m pretty sure they did match the brain scan similarity results with the people’s actual self-report of their feelings. And this is very awesome because now I am “allowed” to write about couples who are still passionately in love with each other after many years of marriage. 😀

But just a disclaimer: I am not saying that couples MUST still feel passion for each other after many years to be considered a “happy couple”. Even warm feelings of love and attachment (though without the passion, fire, and giddy excitement) can be very good and satisfying already.

Oh and what I also know from psych courses and out-of-school psych reading, are some ways to keep passion (or at least love) alive in a marriage. These are the ones I remember: 1) touching each other affectionately (hugs, kisses, cuddling, caressing, touching, hand-holding, etc.); 2) praising your partner (sincerely!) for things; 3) doing little expressions of love like leaving love notes or letters; 4) um, having a lot of sex; 5) doing new things together, participating in novel and exciting activities with each other.

No. 5) seems to be especially important in keeping passion alive from what I’ve read. One theory I read about in my textbook, is that when couples first meet, they are really excited about each other, because they get to learn so much new stuff about this new, fascinating person. They engage in lots of mutual self-disclosure, telling each other lots and lots about themselves. But eventually sometime in their relationship, they don’t learn anything more about each other, and so their partner becomes boring and the marriage becomes boring. 🙁

And so proposers of this theory think that couples should participate in novel activities together, so these novel experiences can reveal new sides of their partner they haven’t seen before, to ignite that passion once again. There were studies showing that couples increased their feelings of love for each other after a shared novel and exciting experience/ activity.

I also read two books on marriage by a well-known marriage researcher, John Gottman, who has worked with very many (I think it was thousands or over a thousand) couples. Some things I remember from his books are:

1) Having a love map for your partner: so always updating yourself about your partner, on what they’re doing and how they are, so you’re always up-to-date with your spouse’s life, and know what their likes and dislikes are.

2) Happy couples don’t necessarily communicate well. They just need to have at least a five to one ratio of five positive things to one negative thing in their relationship. Bascially, if there is a lot of positivity in the relationship and not that much negativity in comparison, then the couple would be happy even if they don’t communicate well. (I personally still think communicating well would be helpful though, lol.)

For instance, Gottman identified three types of ways couples use to handle conflict: 1) validating, so the couple explicitly discusses the issue, analyzes it, negotiates, considering the other’s needs and wants as well as their own, etc.; 2) volatile, where the couple has a shouting match with each other; and 3) conflict avoidant, which just means that the partners avoid talking about the issue at all, and just let time erase the issue or at least make it more tolerable.

So even though many of us believe that only the validating way would be good for a couple and the latter two harmful, Gottman disagrees, because in his research, there are couples who are volatile or conflict avoidant, yet are still happy couples because they have at least a five to one ratio. For instance, this volatile couple creates a lot of negativity with that heated shouting at each other, yet they have a huge amount of positivity in the relationship that overrides this negativity, for example when they share a lot of deep, passionate embraces and kisses.

This conflict avoidant couple on the other hand, though they don’t have that many positive events (e.g. passionate expressions of affection), they also have a lot less negativity, because they avoid conflict and confrontation! So for this particular couple, they still meet at least a five to one ratio, so they are still a happy and satisfied couple. :D.

In fact, being conflict avoidant can be good sometimes because, as Gottman says, there are some things about your partner that you just can’t change (or would be very hard to change), so you just have to learn to tolerate it–as long as it’s not a really serious problem like gambling or drug addiction. 🙁 But yeah I do agree that learning to tolerate things that are not THAT bad is important, as even with our friends there will always be things that we don’t like, because they are different people from us, but we have to tolerate these things otherwise we’d have no friends! lol. Though of course I wouldn’t advise tolerating the behavior of a friend who constantly manipulates you into lending them a lot of money, which they usually never return. 🙁

3) What the researcher calls the four horsemen of the apocalypse: criticism (attacking your partner or their personality, rather than talking about the specific behavior that upsets you) , defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. These are four things to avoid in a marriage, and while the first three things can still exist in a happy marriage (though probably only at lower levels), contempt would be greatly detrimental to a marriage, and has no place in a happy marriage. Contempt is a mindset of seeing yourself as superior to your partner, that you’re always condescending, putting them down, undermining their self-esteem, seeking out and pouncing at their weaknesses instead of looking for and appreciating their strengths. Yeek even writing that sentence horrifies me that some people would do such things to their partner. 🙁 This can even be seen as a kind of psychological or emotional abuse cycle. :O

Uh…okay I see that I have written way too much now, haha, (I could keep on writing if I don’t stop myself, as I am so obsessed with psychology XD) but here you have an idea of what my “expertise” is, lol, and yes I apply these ideas from research studies and theories to my romance arcs in my story, hahaha!

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 8:46 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! I love it–“proof” of your expertise! 😀

I’m with you that I enjoy having a well-rounded life, and I think not having a 100% focus on writing helps me stay on that path. 🙂

As for your list of 5 things to keep love alive in a relationship? Yep, those are all spot on. 🙂 Christina A. Caeliss posted a great image on FB yesterday about how guys deserve to be spoiled too because how do you expect to be treated like a queen if you treat him like a servant, and we had a fantastic conversation in the comments. Basically, those little things couples do for each other every day add up–like to that 5-to-1 ratio you mentioned–and that idea also touches on the “no contempt” requirement for relationships too. 🙂 So absolutely–great thoughts! Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Serena Yung June 9, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Wow I loved that image and the comments on it so much! I’m really touched by the stories of loving couples there too. 😀

Yeah I love the little things couples do for each other daily too! Accumulating all those little positivities. 😀 One case study from Gottman’s book, was a couple who did all these little things for each other everyday, e.g. knowing exactly how their spouse liked their salad, calling each other to check how their business meeting with their potential client went, or how a doctor’s appointment went, etc. All these little touches to keep a couple close and connected. Maybe I’m really sentimental, because I can actually feel my eyes getting warm and moist already typing this. ^^

Reply

Jami Gold June 11, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Hi Serena,

I thought you’d like that. 😀 And yes, exactly. 🙂

Reply

Deborah Makarios June 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Every day job I’ve had, pretty much, I’ve found myself thinking of it as a setting for a murder mystery. Turns out movie film isn’t strong enough to strangle someone with (I asked the projectionist).

Reply

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 8:46 pm

Hi Deborah,

LOL! Too funny! And a great attitude to have. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Becca June 10, 2015 at 12:14 pm

There’s a website, http://www.quora.com/ , that is basically a database of questions on everything. You can ask your own questions, if you’re curious about something. You can also answer questions on any topics you feel knowledgable about. It’s pretty cool.

Reply

Jami Gold June 11, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Hi Becca,

Oh yes! I’ve heard about that site. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

Reply

What do you think?

21 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Previous post:

Next post: