One of the best pieces of advice I ever received on writing nonfiction was this: become an expert on something. A good nonfiction writer is really just a very serious editor; the world is spread out before him and he sculpts away all the negative space until he is left with a tiny nugget of information or interpretation. And we, the readers, love having someone point to the great things under our very noses. That's why books like Salt and Blink and Stiff and Better and Cod and Andrew Jackson strike the public so hard. Someone is pointing to this thing and saying hey, look at this! Cool, interesting, and important! Add this grain of sand to your ever-expanding information age knowledge!
Fiction writers, lucky ducks, are experts on the worlds and characters of their own invention (I happen to be reading Ender's Game and it's shocking how the world, like all good fictional worlds, feels not only real but inevitable, obvious).
I say all of this because today I am reassessing my expertise. My life thus far has been devoted to learning in a disorganized way. I made a study of studying for a while, and then of having adventures, and then of reading and writing (which is cheating because I read and wrote about zillions of different things), and of getting and quitting jobs, of course, and then of friendship and laziness and all sort of things.
So I am left, these days, with a fact that many memoirists know: the only thing I am an expert on is myself. And not a terribly interesting version of myself, either, but still, there I am, putzing around waiting to be investigated. Montaigne changed the writing world with his observations about himself and thousands of others have not shied away from the self as subject. But today, I hesitate. I'm tired of myself. I want to look outward to this very interesting world.
And so I search for new expertise...