by Jargon Writer

Writing my way to becoming a freelancer

Why I Can Write About Anything

Some people say write what you know. I think a good writer can write about anything. One of the primary skills a writer needs to have in order to differentiate themselves from the average typing person is the ability to do research; dig into a topic, learn a ton about it, and then simplify and explain the topic so that other people can learn about without doing everything you just did. Good writing explains a topic by breaking complex ideas down into simple ones without taking up additional space.

This isn’t easy. One of my recent assignments involved writing two articles on holistic health. Now, I know something about this topic – strange as it may seem, it’s a huge trend in the pet product market right now and I’ve done a bit of research on it from the point of view.

It’s a topic that interests me mildly, but it’s definitely not a topic that I am passionate about. I do not practice the lifestyle, although I do try to apply some of the concepts and believe that most of the ideas involved (such as the idea that what you put into your body and the quality of the foods you eat are major factors in how well it functions).

When it comes right down to it, I am not scientifically inclined and do not enjoy reading research studies and the like. However, the truth of the matter is writers have bills to pay. I have bills to pay (though at the moment my full-time job covers pretty much all of those). So we do research and write about topics we aren’t necessarily passionate about. Instead, we take pride in the careful crafting of our words and the skill we employ in teaching our readers something new.

For me, the primary motivation in taking the assignment is that if they are pleased with my work it will be a regular gig – they are looking for 3 articles a week. At the rate they are paying for those articles, this assignment would allow me to make almost half of my targeted financial goals a month. And, unfortunately, I think this is one of the less pleasant truths about freelancing, especially at the early stage.

Perhaps someday I’ll be so successful that I can pick and choose which assignments to accept. But for the time being, I’ll do the bread and butter jobs, build my samples and continue working toward that goal.

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March 4, 2010 - Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. Melissa,

    I work at a market research firm and write research reports for clients launching new products. the process of researching an industry can be tedious, but in the end it is always rewarding. i always end up learning more than i can/need to put into the report.

    On the same note, the kind of writing you are talking about in this post is based on synthesizing multiple sources of information into a single piece for the reader. aka being the middle man/woman.

    does that really make a place for yourself in the writing market? wouldn’t a writer who creatively generates his/her own information, (or at least someone who is a primary source) be more valuable?

    Comment by Mehul Kar | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  2. First, thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    Now, the problem with being a writer who creatively generates his/her own information, as a primary source (by which I assume you mean, for example, a scientist writing about their own research, or a doctor writing about medical information) is it requires being good at two things simultaneously – writing and science or writing and medicine… and people with those types of knowledge stereotypically aren’t good writers – or at least aren’t as good as professional writers.

    And of course, when possible generating your own information is the best option – if you can be present for a newsworthy event that you’ll then write about, that’s ideal. But when you’re writing about something like holistic health or the advancement of the natural trend in the pet industry your best bet is research. Hard numbers when you can find them and talking directly to people who are on the front line.

    Comment by mbreau | March 6, 2010 | Reply

    • not quite what i meant. In business terms, every step of a process must add value to the product, or else it is usually discarded and the process is streamlined.

      In writing, Wiki sources are already a well branded and well-known source of synthesized information. readers don’t need another blog aggregating information to them.

      the only other way to add value (as far as i can see) is to present some sort of insight on raw data, i.e. a different interpretation, a disagreement, etc. etc.

      Back to your original post: you can write about anything only to the extent that you do 10 times the research you present, and learn/understand enough about the industry/field/topic that you can add thoughtful insight to the discussion. If you’re just providing a hub for information, you MAY still make a place for yourself in the market, but then it’s almost too easy to compete against you.

      p.s. yes, thoughtful comment because I loove being devil’s advocate 🙂 born troublemaker.

      Comment by Mehul Kar | March 8, 2010 | Reply

      • Well discussing a topic with a devils advocate is always fun.

        I completely understand your point about that need already being met in the marketplace – however you fail to consider two points.
        1) Wikis have a stigma for being unreliable. Schools don’t want you to turn to them for research. If the information is presented by a well known brand or source (ie. if I’m writing for a company who develops products in that category) that may help make the information more trustworthy.

        2) Often, when a company hires a writer to produce pieces for them the idea is not necessarily to present information in a new way or even to present new information. It is to show that they as an organization know that information and are sharing it with the public. That is, it presents them as experts in their field. It makes them “professional” in the consumer’s eye. And, when a consumer is researching a particular product, it gives them evidence to support the idea that their company’s products are legit and the product that consumer should buy. Often these types of articles are slanted to intentionally show the company in its best light.

        Now when NOT talking in the context of writing for a company, I agree that it takes a lot of research in order to be able to add thoughtful insights to the discussion. Which is why many writers take on specific writing niches – ex. business (my niche).

        Even within my niche however, I believe you should spend 40 minutes researching for every 30 you spend writing …

        Comment by mbreau | March 8, 2010

  3. So you say you can write about anything because you can look up information?

    Except in certain markets (which, as I said before, have extremely low barriers to entry), I don’t think that really qualifies as writing. The service of merely presenting information is useful in some markets, but I wouldn’t call the service “writing,” I would call it “researching.” The fact that you put it in words on paper doesn’t qualify it as writing.

    I guess it boils down to a matter of definition.

    Comment by Mehul Kar | March 9, 2010 | Reply

  4. How can you write about anything without first doing research? Even if that research is based in your own life, you have base it somewhere.

    While I understand what you disagree with, I have to say that if we each only wrote about things we already know, none of us would do much writing!

    Comment by mbreau | March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • We’re arguing about semantics now, but researching and writing go hand-in-hand in most cases. I just wanted to point out the difference.

      Comment by Mehul Kar | March 10, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] Round Up What I learned at the Newspaper: the Power of Observation – I have said the most important part of writing is research. Mehul clearly disagreed with me in the comments the other day, so I offer up this piece as […]

    Pingback by Weekly Round Up « by Jargon Writer | March 18, 2010 | Reply


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