“Write what you know… My No. 1 rule,” declares blogger Ellen Vrana. “Charles Dickens couldn’t have written Jane Austen and Austen couldn’t have written Dickens. They wrote the world and people they each knew. I’m not going to write a book on Peruvian potato farmers, but being a U.S. immigrant in London? You bet. It got easier when I stopped trying to write things I thought I should write (business) and started to write things I could write (self-reflection).”

Black hole of books

I’m on the same page as Ellen. Several years ago, I was struggling to write a book on social entrepreneurship for microbusiness owners. I was sincerely interested in the topic, and thought writing a book on it would help me achieve my then-goal of positioning myself as an advisor on social contribution for small businesses.

But each paragraph was an uphill climb. I knew a lot about the subject, but I was working at the edges of it, not immersed in it. Coming up with the real-world examples the book needed required in-depth research and personal interviews. I’m not a journalist; distilling externally-sourced material into cogent writing has never been my gift.

The process of writing that book was so hard, I began to question my abilities as a writer. Despite having already published four books at that time, plus hundreds of articles and blog posts. I was so not having a good time.

I probably would have wrestled with my book idea a while longer, given my tendency toward dogged persistence, but I was rescued by a colleague. She and I — both microbusiness owners — had formed a giving circle together. We had been successfully raising funds for causes we cared about ever since. She suggested that we might have a greater impact by writing a how-to book so others could form their own giving circles.

Of course! This was a topic I knew intimately and was already deeply engaged in. It would be a perfect fit with my positioning goal. Here was a book I knew I could write.

So, I wrote that book. The writing was easy. The book got published. It made an impact and helped me achieve my business objectives. I never went back to the earlier idea. And I’m fine with that.

Writing what you know makes writing easier.

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