Remember how in school you didn’t always get to choose the topics of your papers? You might have had some control over the specific focus of your topic, but the teacher didn’t usually say, “Write about whatever you want, d’ahlings!”

Other than personal pieces you write and try to sell after the fact, most professional writing is like that. You might suggest the general topic, but the editor can change the angle or tone, whether or not you like it. Sometimes you get an assignment on a specific topic that you maybe never wanted to write about, like breast pumps or how to handle spider bites.

Yes, those are past assignments of mine that I don’t really care to delve into further, but I did a fine job doing the research and presenting the information as requested. So far I’ve written articles and essays on general parenting, raising twins, product usage in families with twins, multiple safety topics, and faith, as well as done profiles on journalists.

For the past year and a half I’ve been editing, coaching, and doing some ghostwriting on a family historical fiction book that required me to learn about 1,000 years of history on topics ranging from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of Roses to the difference between Puritans and Separatists and to events in Colonial America such as the Salem Witch Trials and the Revolutionary War right up to many of the important happenings in 20th Century America.

I’ve compiled charticles filled with numerous objective facts. I’ve waxed poetic about my newborn babies (OK—they’re 16 now and I’m a lot less poetic!) I’ve created fictional scenes that demonstrate characters’ personality traits. I’ve verified historical information, as well as researched facts that are disputed and come up with reasonable reasons for discrepancies. I’ve provided resources within articles and in sidebars.

But if I pursue the old saw “write what you know,” I haven’t even scratched the surface of my own personal knowledge base. For one thing, I can still read a financial statement—I didn’t need the government to tell me that the U.S. was in a recession. Here’s just a sample listing—in no particular order—of other topics that have been or are part of my life:

  • Gifted education
  • ADD
  • 21st Century Learners
  • Aging parents
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Helping a loved one with cancer
  • Running
  • Personal writing
  • Dogs
  • Guinea pigs
  • Family businesses
  • Container gardening
  • Living with teenagers
  • Being “sandwiched”
  • Book clubs
  • Teen drivers
  • Celiac disease

I could go on (and on and on) but I already have! Relationships, business, health, hobbies, education, writing, pets—and that doesn’t even include my faith, politics, and personal rants.

True to my liberal arts upbringing, I aim to be a lifelong learner and choose to study, even when I don’t need to do so. But every time Life throws me into something I never wanted to know, I put on my student hat and try to find out everything I can. And whatever I discover that helps me might help someone else.

In the end, providing that help for someone else is exactly what I want to write, even if I never wanted to receive the specific assignment or know that a certain need existed.