Creative Spotlight: Should You Really Only Write What You Know?

Anyone who has written or studied writing for a while likely knows the classic advice: “Write what you know.” It’s most often said about  creative writing, and is used to tell the writer to use current experience as inspiration if they aren’t sure where to start. It also rightfully warns beginners not to write something technically deep if they don’t have the real experience to make it believable. While this advice can be very helpful for beginning writers, it can also be misinterpreted by those interested in copywriting.

Because copywriting often involves writing in a context that the writer doesn’t have true experience with, it can intimidate creatives into avoiding the challenge, whether for paid clients or for their own marketing purposes. However, with a little creativity and focus, a skilled writer can excel at copywriting tasks related to any topic. Read on to see a few remarkably simple ways to deliver high-value content to readers while sounding completely natural and informed.

Outsider Looking In

palm tree
Image via Flickr by barsen

Let’s imagine a tropical resort sees one of your writing samples and gives you a chance to write articles for their blog that help sell their services against their most common competitors. It seems like a great opportunity to show that you can use your writing skills to help others. There’s just one problem: you’ve never gone outside your home country. You live in a totally different climate and have never traveled. Your idea of a vacation is staying home and watching movies, and you don’t know the first thing about staying at a tropical resort.

The important thing to realize is that this is the opposite of a problem. It can easily work in your favor by keeping you relatively distant toward the topic, able to appeal to new and repeat customers. If you had gone to a few vacation resorts in the past, but they weren’t like the one you’re writing for now, you may fail to depict the business in a way that they find useful. Starting as an outsider, you can more easily get an impression of what will work for the client without your perceptions getting in the way. Let’s take a look at how that sort of reasearch can be done.

Move Quick and Stay Close

Let’s address the immediate concern: a lack of concise technical detail. If you have to write articles that draw in resort customers, what sort of information would appeal to them? What if you have an even more technically challenging task, such as writing for auto parts stores? If you’re concerned about needing to do a lot of research for a potential assignment, don’t hesitate. Accept it quickly to give yourself as much time as possible. But once you have, how can you start building a strong base of research?

The best method is to base your research on the closest source to the client that you can. The Internet is full of easily accessible knowledge, but you can also take the initiative to ask people in the industry. Have one-on-one talks with people who have been in the same world, and get a sense of what matters to customers and businesses the most. In many cases, there’s nothing wrong with just asking the client yourself if you’re dealing with them directly. It’s your job to write, not to know exactly what they need, and clients will understand that.

The Power of Noise

tweeting bird
Image via Flickr by Andy Morffew

The Internet is, figuratively, the loudest place in existence. It is now easier than ever to see opinions about a topic, all from the comments on videos, blog posts, social media posts, rating sites, and other places. Now, people often say that comments primarily have minority opinions, and most people don’t voice their opinion because nothing inspired them to do so. This is true, but it means that the opinions posted were incited by an emotion, which can be used as inspiration for what you write.

For example, if you check reviews of a competing resort and find that there are complaints of rude and slow service across most negative ratings, you may have just discovered a topic worth covering. You could write about the value of service and how your client does things better by pulling from positive comments and testimonials on their social media presence. Just like that, you have the basis for relevant and intriguing content that could easily draw in some extra customers who were unsatisfied by the competitors, for which the client will be very thankful.

Proactive Research

One of the best things about this style of research is that it works brilliantly for proactively reaching out to clients. While it’s great that you can say “yes” to more jobs by knowing how to tap into the related industry, you’ll build your track record even faster by finding businesses that need copywriters, doing research ahead of time, and then approaching them directly with an idea.

This gives you the ability to practically create new job opportunities out of thin air, and draw up more connections and references. Making the first move with an idea you researched for them makes you seem more confident and competent, greatly raising the chance that they’ll take you seriously. You won’t get a yes every time, because not all clients will be ready to spend on a copywriter, but when it works, it can establish long-lasting connections and strengthen your professional footprint.

Put simply: yes, you should only write what you know, but it doesn’t matter when you can so easily learn new things. The majority of paid writing tasks are meant for a broad and invested audience, not a small, detached, academic one. That means that for a sufficient amount of time spent, you can learn the wants and needs of any industry, as well as how a potential client can appeal to them.

So don’t let this old mantra scare you away from taking new writing tasks or projects. If you do research close to your clients and look for recent, passionate opinions from customers, it won’t take long for you to get a sense of the subject. You’ll be able to write with a knowledge of common issues, needs, desires, and interests, just like anyone who has been in the same industry for decades.

About the author

Shane Hall

Shane Hall is an independent fiction author and copywriter with a B.A. in English from the University of South Florida. His experience in the harsh world of fiction developed a focus on personalized marketing strategies for artists and other creatives.