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June 9, 2015

The Writing Community: What’s Your Expertise?

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?

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What do you think?

21 Comments on "The Writing Community: What’s Your Expertise?"

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Christina Hawthorne

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. 🙂

Sharon

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.

Kimberley Cooper

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 🙂

E.G. Moore

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!

Davonne Burns

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.

Angie Arcangioli

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.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
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,… Read more »
Deborah Makarios

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).

Becca

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.

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[…] posts is for my Romance Beat Sheet. Romance authors are well-connected and huge proponents of the “pay it forward” idea I mentioned last time, so when they find something helpful, they share the […]

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