Worrying about the expert (Mistake #120)

My writing specialisms are food allergies and food intolerances, which I’ve been writing about for well over a decade – news, articles, features, blogs, four books, with a fifth due soon.

Naturally, I read a lot of material which covers my subjects, and a lot of what I read I think is poor.

Is this because it’s inherently and objectively not very good – perhaps because the subjects are complex, or because it’s written by writers who don’t understand the basics?

Or is it because I know my subjects so well, that I can identify shortcomings more readily in material which the less familiar reader may not consider lower quality? Do I view it all dimly because I know it can be done so much better?

Or is most of it just fine, and is my unfair opinion of it merely a manifestation of annoyance that Some Other Writer has the gall to write about MY subject?

I’m not sure I can truthfully answer these questions, but I do know one thing – those other writers don’t give a damn what I think at all.

Possible solution to ‘expert worry’? Write a book with one! (Out November 2017)

And so they shouldn’t.

I am not the target reader.

Now although I have writing specialisms, I do not consider myself an expert. When it comes to matters health, experts are those with relevant and hard-earned qualifications – dietitians, allergists, doctors, psychologists.

Do I worry about these experts and what they think about me?

Not much, no. I bet there are allergy and gluten experts out there who read my stuff and roll their eyes. (Or weep anguished tears through them.) (Or try to poke them out with sharp objects.)

Am I going to stop writing?

No. (More rolls, more tears, more poking …)

There is always someone out there who knows more than you about the subject of your latest article, book, blog post or feature, and there always will be.

You’re writing not for them, but for a different reader.

When I write about coeliac disease, I am never writing for a world-leading gastroenterologist – I am generally writing for someone with coeliac disease, or for someone with symptoms that may be suggestive of undiagnosed coeliac disease.

I’ve had many students who have felt that they had no ‘right’ to write about something.

You have every right to write about whatever you like, as challenging as it may or may not be.

Your writing or content may not be flawless, true. But once you accept that, in all probability, to someone out there, what you have written will have some imperfections, it can help free you from the pressure of getting it 100% perfect (which can be stifling) and the terror of getting something wrong (which might put you off trying in the first place).

Don’t worry about the expert. If you are worried about them, then consider hunting that expert out and interviewing them and then quoting them: it can add a degree of kudos to your article if the reader knows you have consulted knowledgeable people first-hand. If you’re worried what experts might think, then, giving them some ‘space’ in your article to share their views can both ease your fears and provide added value to your reader.

But never worry about them. Because your job, as a writer, quite often, is to translate complicated messages which experts may not be able to simplify, for the lay reader.

You’re doing this for the reader.

Worry about getting it right for them.

Comments 1

  • Caring about what the readers (including editors and the like as well as the buying public) wants and not worrying too much about what anyone else thinks sounds like great advice for all writers.

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