You know the expression “write what you know”? I think it exists for a reason.
When you write what you know, you give the theoretical a real life application. It makes the information seem real and relatable rather than artificial and contrived. It gives your writing a tone of understanding and knowledge that can’t be acquired simply from reading a book or a news article. It makes me want to keep coming back and, even if I disagree with what you say or do, I have an appreciation for what you’re writing.
It’s a special kind of writer that can do research and write realistically about topics she knows nothing about (for instance, Jodi Picoult. I don’t know how that woman does it but she is good). Most of us can’t do that. Most of us have to write about our experiences and our knowledge because, well…that’s all we have.
I will tell you, though, that nothing makes me click away or not return to a website faster than the author or authors trying to dispense advice on topics they clearly know nothing about. With so many aspects of life to write about, why bother with stuff you don’t have a clue about? However, if that’s what you’re interested in and that’s what you like and you feel compelled to write about it, why not just turn the topics on their heads and present information in a different light?
- If you have never had kids, don’t tell me how to save money on kids’ clothes or how to keep them occupied for cheap or how to host an inexpensive birthday party. While I get what you’re trying to do, it’s a whole different experience when you’re actually a parent. And no, babysitting your nephew for a weekend does not count. It would be helpful to me, as a reader, to know what you’ve learned about money from your friends who are parents. Or how your parents handling of money affected you.
- If you’ve never dealt with a hostile or unfriendly workplace, don’t tell me how to handle a boss who’s a bully or an obnoxious co-worker. What you would do if you ever encountered that is completely different than actually encountering that situation. Instead, talk to me about what your ideal workplace looks like or how you’ve become a better employee by working in a nurturing environment.
- If you’ve never been in debt, don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing to get out of debt. And don’t tell me you understand what I’m going through. You don’t. You’d be more helpful if you told me what you’ve gained by living a debt free life. Do it without condescension, though. Because if you’re condescending, that would make me hate you more.
- If you don’t cook, don’t write about saving money at the grocery store or cooking from scratch. How do you know? Instead, think about how your mealtime habits could present useful information. In fact, you know what would benefit your readers? Writing about how you go out to eat every day without going bankrupt.
- If you’ve never planned a wedding, don’t tell me how to do it “on the cheap” (one of the many expressions I abhor). Don’t give me details on how to score a sweet deal on a dress or flowers or location. Instead, tell me why you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your wedding or other ways to use that money instead of on a fancy wedding.
- If you’ve never dealt with financial or actual infidelity, don’t give me tips on what to do next or how to spot it. Just like the bad boss or workplace, what you’d actually do is entirely different than what you think you’d do. I have no positive suggestions for this one except just leave it alone. Don’t even broach the subject.
An exception to some of these: if you are a seasoned industry veteran (ex., wedding planner, therapist, HR rep, financial planner. etc), then feel free to write away. You have insider knowledge that could benefit readers from all sides.
There are plenty of ways to discuss financial evergreen and popular topics without a) sounding cliché; b) sounding like a know-it-all asshole when in fact you know nothing about the topic; and c) being boring. If you want to write about those aspects of personal finance, great. Fabulous! Just make sure that you’re drawing on what you know and your experiences in order to make it as authentic (and as useful) to your readers as possible.
Because that? Is good writing.