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Friday, June 22, 2007

Ask the Non-Experts

As a former English major I consider myself to be quite lucky to make an actual living using my writing and communication skills. And I don't just mean get a few pennies thrown my way every now and then. I mean, my innate creativity and talent for stringing words together allows me to earn a rather comfortable living. True, I am not a fancy high-profile journalist nor do I get to write about anything very sexy, but I get to write and at the end of the day I go home and work rarely follows me. Since I'm not particularly career obsessed, I am completely fine with this. To be honest, what awaits me outside work will always be more important.


Opportunities abound in our area for writers, you just have to know where to look and be willing to write on just about anything. I for instance, spend my days educating professionals of a certain field about new practices to make them better at what they do. A large chunk of my writing is for industry trade publications. My articles are technical in nature, which is ironic because I rarely know what I'm talking about.

My typical protocol for writing an article is: meet with my editor to determine a topic and an interesting spin; research that topic; write and rewrite until it's perfect. Somewhere in there, I send my article to an expert who I ask to verify or debunk my made-up technical claims. Usually they add several paragraphs of information that while factually accurate, is not particularly well-written. I neaten up their prose, re-arrange some sentences, and send our joint efforts to my editor, who then tells me how brilliant and accomplished I am.

If you think that this process is unique to my experience as a writer, you are woefully mistaken. I have many friends throughout the DC metro region--brilliant, wildly creative individuals who spend their spare time obsessed with music, art, culture and a variety of other fascinating subjects who earn their livings writing about topics that they know nothing about. At least once a week a fellow writer entertains me with a story about something they are writing or once wrote where they made up some of the "expert" information that was then disseminated to their loyal followers.

I know you're wondering "why don't the experts write these articles if real-life writers are such technical imbeciles?" Good question. The reality of the world is that it takes a special kind of brain to be able to master complex technical information and communicate its benefits in a reader-friendly manner. It's similar to why I can't seem to find a graduate program that would enable me to earn both an MFA AND an MBA.

In most cases, people figure it's better to hire a wordsmith who can at least research information and make it sound good. Verification can always come later. This isn't to say that I regularly publish bad information. All of my articles are 100% accurate, thanks to the technical people who review them. Nor is this to say that I am sort of fraud. I'm a very good writer who relies on the expertise of other people to get things done. Its a system that works in its own little way.

I just find it somewhat funny that information is regularly published by "experts" who really aren't. And that at the end of the day, us non-experts are kicking back with our Bourbon and Cokes, and giggling at our collective cluelessness.


Blogger Lickety Split said...

Wasn't this a "Holiday Inn Express" commercial at one point?


8:59 PM  
Blogger 123Valerie said...

Yeah, I spend my day trying to channel 50-year-old white, male billionares who get stiffies any time the Fed metions lowering the interest rates or bond yeilds dip below the 5% mark.

I feel like you crawled in my brain, K.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Michael J. West said...

I know you're wondering "why don't the experts write these articles if real-life writers are such technical imbeciles?"

I usually answer this question by saying "because the experts are rhetorical imbeciles." Which is true, but I prefer your more diplomatic response.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Lickety Split said...

Truly great teachers are that because of their ability to convey information from their brain to yours not because their brain contains a lot.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Godshamgod said...

Quoth William Zinsser: Writing is hard work.

Fun post.

2:23 PM  

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