Experience in writing: don’t let it bite you in the bum

Remember the old joke about the copywriter who had 20 years’ experience – or was it one year’s experience repeated 19 times? Those of you who have heard me speak know that I often make jokes about having been a pro writer since around the Ming Dynasty, and have written for every possible medium apart from tablets of stone.

Experience in writing: don't let it bite you in the bum

And that’s only because I break my nails when I use a hammer and chisel.

But the wrong use of experience in writing is not at all funny.

Why? Well, let’s start by examining experience itself

In my humble opinion, experience is split into two sections: time-specific, and ubiquitous.

Time-specific experience is what you get at the time you get it, if you see what I mean. It’s useful then and for a short while thereafter, as and when you come up with similar problems and challenges; you know what worked last time, so it’s worth trying it again.

This element of experience is often connected with harder, more practical elements that affect your writing: equipment, technology, methodologies, fashions, trends, socio-political circumstances, etc. It’s powerful at the time, but it’s short-lived. Once society moves on, it becomes largely obsolete.

Ubiquitous experience is usually connected with so-called “soft skills” … the experience you gain through your writing that’s connected with people’s emotions, basic motivations – in fact human nature itself. This never changes and hasn’t since the Dark Ages (or even the Ming Dynasty) and never will, as far as I can see.

How can you use time-specific experience in your writing?

In a word: carefully.

I sometimes look back nostalgically to the days when the average corporate video budget ran to about £30K (USD $44Kish) and the technology required to make an average video involved production crews of 2 or 3, offline editing in a small dedicated static suite and online editing in luxurious central London suites that cost squillions per hour to hire.

Now you can achieve the same – if not better – result technically, with one operator using a machine the size of an egg box to shoot the material and an edit suite in his/her dining room using a laptop.


With a £30K overall budget, for the writer to charge 10 percent of budget for content and script development/writing was considered reasonable. Today, you can make the whole damned production for £3K. Or less.

So as a writer / creator of a video script, how can you possibly use the experience you have gained in an industry where technology has gone from A to Z in 10 minutes, in terms of not just cost, but sheer bulk? Nah. A rethink is called for, and rightly so.

And the video industry, although it’s a huge and face-slapping example of time-specific (and redundant) experience, is not there in isolation. Even dear old print has seen some zooming technology updates in the last few decades and the technical cost of print has come down dramatically.

Wherever we look at business media now, it’s clear that production and dissemination costs have come down. We “creative types” like writers and designers have had to swallow the techie progress and continue to provide content despite it becoming devalued financially. But that’s another story.

And sadly, that experience is now worth diddly-squat.

How can you use ubiquitous experience in your writing?

This is where your experience as a writer – or expert who writes / blogs / comments – comes right to the fore.

This is the experience you gain from writing about issues that affect people rather than things and events, over the years. One thing that strikes me particularly about this element is that despite how much circumstances change, how little human nature changes … but that’s just one of my own little foibles that you may not share.

And of course, merely writing about your topic or topics is only half the story, as you know. Where your ubiquitous writing experience really gathers momentum is when you take into consideration the feedback you get.

What do you learn from people who comment on your blog posts and social media posts?

From people who respond to your email newsletters? From people who use the response page on your website?

And, from people in the online networking groups to which you belong on, say, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, etc.?

Here’s my magic formula for using experience in writing

…and I hope it might help those of you who have lots of useful experience to share in writing, to do it productively and powerfully in our rapidly evolving society where if anything words are even more important than ever before…

1.Look back over what you have written in the past. Strip out the time-specific content that no longer applies.

2.Take out from your earlier writing what is “evergreen…” likely to be more emotional, touchy-feely stuff that applies across centuries

3.Apply your “evergreen” experience and learning to current issues, problems, challenges and more in your own business area

4.Use that to help your customers/clients/readers get more from their own businesses, and from yours … as these are now, and likely to be tomorrow

5.Resolve to keep your eye constantly on the ball so your experience continues to work symbiotically with what you observe, and what you predict

How do you feel about your own experience in writing?

Please share…

And if you’re interested in learning more on how to use your experience effectively in your writing, check this out while you’re here…