How To Write Like An Expert, Even When You Aren’t

A book with the words 'from the real experts'

Photo: Rita Morais

I feel I should clear things up before you guys go grabbing the pitchforks. The title doesn’t condone you lying—and you shouldn’t try to pass yourself off as something you’re not—but you can reframe a story so that it matches your narrative.

Take, for instance, the difference between a Dietetics Degree and trying out intermittent fasting for three months. So maybe you’re not qualified to give people nutrition advice, but you can share your own experiences about the diet plans you’ve personally tried.

Speaking of which, what constitutes an expert anyway? And what can you do if you want to write about the things you don’t have absolute knowledge over?

Those are the questions we’re looking to answer today, so read on and let’s see if I can manage to persuade you to feel like an expert.

But first…

Let’s boil the basic forms of authority into three Es for convenience: established, experienced, and educated.

Like it or not, your readers expect some form of authority every time they read your stories, so everything you write has to come from a place of knowledge. I already hear your doubts creeping in: But I don’t have authority in anything! Relax! Those are just big words being thrown around. It’s not as scary as you think it is.

Besides, what’s this about you not having authority? Do you really believe that? Are you telling me that you have zero hobbies? None at all? Because if you do, you’re already knowledgable in a subject that few others know about.

See? Told you I could make you feel like an expert.

Now that we’re feeling all warm and fuzzy, let me just drop a truth hammer to balance things out. All the authority in the world isn’t going to help you if your story isn’t interesting. And that basically boils down to providing value, either by educating or entertaining your audience.

So you could be an expert on what you had for lunch yesterday, but if it’s not educating or entertaining your audience, then it’s best that you move on to your next idea. Once you’ve got that down though, then you’re ready for the three Es of authority.

Established

This is you being at the pinnacle of your craft. Instead of you writing for the market, the market listens to you. People like Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, and Tim Ferriss come to mind. But you needn’t be a lynchpin to be established.

You could also be a digital marketer who’s helped small companies grow their businesses. You could be a black belt in jiu-jitsu. You could also be the world’s faster knitter. Anything that you’ve put considerable time into does put you in the established territory.

So think about your interests, and try and pinpoint the one or two passions in your life. The bad news is that you’ll have to be pretty damn good in whatever you’re good at to establish yourself as an expert. The good news? You’ll probably enjoy writing about it!

Still, you don’t belong here unless you have the proof to back your words. So no diet advice if you’re packing thirty percent body fat, and forget about hosting financial-freedom seminars if that Lambo in your Insta feed is a rental.

Expert Flex - Adrian Pawel

Weird flex but okay. Photo: Adrian Pawel

Experienced

Being established is tough work, huh? Well, thankfully we’ve got two other Es to cover, and this one’s pretty accessible to just about everyone.

People like Matt D’Avella, Neil Strauss, and everyone who’s ever written a ‘I Did 100 Burpees A Day And This Is What Happened’ article fall into this category. It’s where people document their stories, mostly from an anecdotal perspective.

While you won’t be speaking as an expert, you will still have the ability to educate—or at least entertain—through your experience. This was my main pillar of content for the longest time.

After all, I knew very little about long-distance cycling before taking on this story that involved cycling for 200 kilometres across Myanmar.

I also didn’t know much about wrestling before jumping into the mud pits with the local Indian wrestlers. Also, I didn’t know how to swim, but I still participated in a duathlon that involved choppy waves at sea.

There is a certain charm to not being an expert if you want to share your experience, so the less qualified you are, the better.

You might be asking: That’s all fine and dandy, but what about people who don’t have access to travel? Well, you could write about your failed relationships, like that time my ex joined a cult, or you could pick up a new hobby and tell us how that goes. You have tons of options through experience alone.

Educated

All right. You’re not a hotshot, and gaining experience in a particular field isn’t exactly accessible to you. What do you do then? Basically what almost the entire internet does, and that’s to research and write.

Tim Urban wasn’t a psychologist when he wrote this story about procrastination. In fact, he even admitted to not being an expert on it. But his legwork—including supposedly having an MRI scan just to see if his brain was different from non-procrastinators—contributed to his witty insights and the article as a whole.

So even without proper education or experience of any sort, Urban had managed to craft an educational and entertaining story that would be read by millions.

What does this mean for you? It means that if your research days from college would amount to anything at all, it would be to help you find all the information you need to write a kick-ass story. And the best part is, you won’t have to quote your sources either. Well, most of the time, that is.

I know I’m finally seeing some benefit from the research classes I had to sit through when I went back to college at the age of 27.

We all have a story

That’s a cheesy cliche, isn’t it? Of course we all have a story to tell. It’s just that most of us choose not to share about that time we drank too much and peed in front of a car with people in it (not me), or when we left our country to live with a girl we just met for a few months (oh wait, I’ve already told that story).

But that’s besides the point. What matters is that you don’t need to hide behind your untold story with the pretence of not being qualified anymore. There’s more than one way to be an expert, and sometimes you don’t even need to be one.

39 thoughts on “How To Write Like An Expert, Even When You Aren’t

  1. Breaking it down into the three E’s really helps! I love that idea. It definitely helps work with confidence when it comes to knowing what to write.

  2. Thank you! I needed to read this post! I used to be afraid to speak up, lest I offend anyone but now I’m more in the camp of “I will express my opinions/truths, but just second-guess myself” which is better than not sharing my story at all. Thanks for sharing!

    • Aw yis. The common rule of thumb is to not judge your own work before you let the market decide. So put it all out there. Worst case scenario is you learn what doesn’t work.

      Best case? You find your break. Still hasn’t happened to me though, lol.

      Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful thoughts!

  3. Pingback: How To Write Like An Expert, Even When You Aren’t – Kreativ Solo

  4. “The title doesn’t condone you lying” 😂😂

    What’s the worst that could happen if I actually told my story? Lol
    I found this very helpful. Thank you.

  5. Just what I needed to hear! What is it that cautions me/us against SHARING? Propriety? There is a little voice inside (maybe not so little) that says, “Hey, it’s already been said / that’s not the theme of your blog / it’s just one of your impulsive interests / you can’t write about that!” Thanks Stuart for the encouragement!

    • I’d like to think that it’s the fear of being judged, but any performance art requires you to bare your soul, so yeah, maybe it’s the voice of comfort that stops us from sharing. Thanks for your wonderful comment!

  6. You break everything down easily with your three E’s. I find it overwhelming to think about what to write. I worry I don’t know enough, don’t have enough experience, and have never traveled. But all of us can look inward. And maybe I can even use that MA that’s collecting cobwebs to get me started on research. Hopefully it gives me a little advantage rather than starting from scratch again. Having read this, I feel like I can parse things a little better.

    • I think as writers it’s pretty normal for us to think more about writing than to actually write, so sometimes all we need is that little nudge to write, that little encouragement to tell ourselves it’s okay. Hopefully you overcome this doubt soon, as you have so many great stories to share!

  7. Pingback: How To Write Like An Expert, Even When You Aren’t – Sharkbytes Fun DIY Projects

  8. Well said! I used to be really nervous about setting myself up as an “expert” or an “authority,” because I thought I needed to be officially certified by some imaginary board of whatnot. Then I started thinking about it more as having “experience” and I was able to relax into that more. With some topics I’m now fairly good at establishing myself as an experience-based authority, but other times it’s tricky since I write about ideas from cultures outside my own lived experience. In that case, I have to be careful to balance between presenting my views with confidence and knowing when to acknowledge that I am not an expert.

    • Haha I totally get you. Had to write about remote tribes once or twice, and I felt like I could never do them justice, so I went at it from an angle of an ignorant outsider. After all, nobody could out-expert me at that.

      But yeah, we don’t need to be experts to share our stories. If that were the case, I’d have so little to share. Always appreciate your thoughtful comments, Ceridwen.

  9. Thanks for this, Stuart. Lots of great insights as always. It’s funny how much of this pertains to fiction as well. I’m usually in the educated category. A lit theory degree doesn’t give you much of the other E’s, but now and then, some of my own experiences and established knowledge slips in. Thank you for another opportunity to self-reflect.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s