Credibility Counts

If you're writing content that matters, it's always personal - not only to you; also to the client and to the audience. The subject may not rock your world initially, but you'll find a way in and suddenly 'Forgotten cleaning products of the 1950s' takes on a life of its own. However, if there's no part of you that's fired up by the premise or your angle, put down your pen my friend. Life is too short to create content that doesn't count for something (which is not to say that sometimes people won't want to burn your lovely words and then flush the ash down the toilet). 

I maintain that without a connection to your own words, the chances are they'll be drier than ancient parchment. Or worse, you'll churn out something you think the client will care about that is hollow inside. You may even get away with it for a while but believe me, cleverness will only get you so far.

Starting out with a new subject can be daunting. Most writers suffer from 'imposter syndrome' from time to time, and convincing an editor that you're the best person to write about AI when, to date, the sum of your experience has been watching 2001 A Space Odyssey and playing computer chess is going to be a tall order. Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to help yourself.

Sit and Think
I'm a great fan of sitting and thinking. I like to think the think of no-thinking and see what my free-associating comes up with. I'm essentially walking around the topic - a stage that's crucial to the way I work best. 

Pen and Paper
Some people jump straight to playing with ideas on the page. AI, for example, means different things to different people. Robots from Boston Dynamics, the threat of job losses, understanding algorithms and how they underpin online advertising, the Internet of Things, the Internet of Everything, autonomous vehicles, machine learning, surveillance - just some of the random sparks in my brain while I'm typing this out. Any one of those ideas can be metaphorically lifted into the air and rotated to create a new perspective.

Refine your Research 
Before you rush off to a ubiquitous internet search engine or perhaps a more obscure one, give some thought to where you'll get expert testimony. Typing in AI will produce a plethora of results that can eat up your time and your enthusiasm. Try narrowing your search parameters to AI magazines, or AI news, or AI scandal. With a refined focus you are more likely to identify expert and more relevant sources of information.

Make it Personal
Having thought and played with ideas and scoured the web, remember to put yourself in the piece. And what I mean by that is think about - in the instance - what AI means to you and what it might mean to your client or readers. Are you optimistic, fearful, cynical or just plain confused when it comes to the impact of AI on your life now and in the future? Whatever the case, good - write it down.

Make it Relevant
Not so long ago I found myself in 'strange conversation' territory when someone asked me what I was doing for the weekend. 
"Writing content for a grief counsellor," I replied. As you do. 
She peered at me for a moment. "And what do you know about grief?"
I hadn't expected to be challenged, so I went with my gut. "My brother and I lost both our parents in our 20s, and I lost my brother in my early 40s."
"So what?" she said. 
I was a bit gobsmacked to be honest. I added, "I've been writing about the funeral industry and bereavement for three years, and one of my friends is a bereavement counsellor."
She nodded and half-apologised for being abrupt. 

Although it wasn't a work conversation as such, it could easily have been. I've written on a whole range of topics from ageism to matchmaking to high-end property development. Establishing your credibility in your own mind is half the battle. need to join the dots for clients so that they understand why your experience and expertise (whether it's personal or professional) is relevant to the job. Sometimes it can look a little like a simple formula:

"I haven't written about (A) but I know a lot / have written about (B) and that's relevant to (A) because of (C)."

Understanding (C) may also give you a fresh perspective on the whole topic. 

Derek Thompson
Freelance Columnist, Copywriter, Blogger, and Author. 

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