Thursday, May 10, 2012

For Writers

Tap an Expert on the Shoulder

I grumbled about staying after church in spite of the fact that lunch would be served. The afternoon included a program presented by two veterinarians who would talk, show slides and answer questions about Heifer International. However, as I shrugged into my coat a thought occurred to me; could there be a story here? In case there was I grabbed my camera, a pad and pen and tried to figure out an angle as I drove the five miles to the service.

Since the talk was linked to a youth project I decided to shoot for a children’s article. With only a bare bones idea of what I’d ask the two experts, I plunged ahead. The presentation was wonderful and the husband and wife veterinarians were full of facts and eye-opening anecdotes, things they were delighted to share with me after the program. Several hours later I plopped down in front of my computer with my gathered mass of notes and quotes, some good digital pictures and the doctors email addresses. It was a match made in heaven and I’d almost missed it. The whole experience brought “seize the moment” home to me in a way that served me well over many articles to come. 

One of the more onerous tasks of freelance writing is seeking out experts, but I’ve found that experts surround us at every turn and most of them love to expound. Take my middle son. He works at a very high level in the wind power industry; one or two questions about the world of wind and he’s off and blabbing. I know more about wind power than I ever wanted to know but I’ve tapped into his extensive knowledge and have been able to quote him as an expert many times. The same goes for my dental hygienist. While I stared at the ceiling from the dentist’s chair one morning she began telling about her two sons’ love of unicycling.

“Mffft. . . uh,” I gabbled as she scraped and flossed. That's patient-speak for “Can I talk to your boys about it?” She was delighted I’d asked and not only did I visit the club where the boys cycled, I spoke with their instructors in a sort of “accidental interview”. Their expertise added heft to my subsequent article, which I soon sold to a publication that was eager to have a kid’s sports story that was out of the ordinary.

If you’re like me, ideas for stories zip through your head all day long. Some get a quick flick of your finger and others are so brilliant, you clutch them closely to examine and develop further. Whether it’s fact or fiction there’s no question that input from an expert will only enhance your efforts and add authority to your piece. When you seek to track down that expert the first thing you should think is, who can I tap on the shoulder? Among the experts I’ve used are an adjunct professor of remedial mathematics at our local community college, a numismatist (coin collector), a biology teacher, the vice president of an accounting firm, a Libertarian candidate for Congress, a Ferrier (shoes horses), and a nurse who, along with his wife, owns a theater production company. These people are all friends, relatives or acquaintances.

Another thing I’ve found about experts; they got that way by being intensely immersed in their subject and when given full rein the knowledge they spew forth will fill your empty notebook to capacity and beyond.  So go ahead, look around you, there’s an expert close by that you can tap for almost any subject you’d like to tackle.

Image: Free Digital Photos


  1. Jennifer Brown BanksMay 10, 2012 at 6:58 PM


    Thanks for "tapping us on the shoulders" with this informative post. Good pointers.

    1. I've got to go on an 'expert hunt' soon. Glad you found this informative, Jen.

  2. You are an expert yourself, Sue!

  3. This is just the advice I needed.