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Writers on Writing: Follow Your Curiosity
Elizabeth Knight, a nurse practitioner and health coach, combines deep professional expertise, genuine curiosity and lots of enthusiasm to make her articles informative and entertaining
Welcome back to Writers on Writing, in which I interview writers about their craft, to inform and inspire all of us on our writing journeys.
Elizabeth Knight, PhD, is a primary care nurse practitioner and an integrative health coach. Through her coaching practice Flower Power Health, Knight helps people integrate complex health information and advice into their actual lives. Her writing has been published in Runner’s Life and the American Heart Association’s blog. (Full disclosure: I edit articles by Knight that are published in Wise & Well).
Robert Roy Britt: Describe the type of non-fiction writing you do?
Elizabeth Knight: I explore health topics with a blend of scientific analysis and real-world application. My favorite topics are exercise (especially running), transgender rights, and nutrition. I’m particularly interested in ensuring that evidence is inclusive, and this often means pointing out where gender, race, age, and other characteristics aren’t adequately represented. Writing is one tool I can use to advance social justice in science.
RRB: How does your professional experience inform your writing?
EK: Because I have an academic background, I have deep expertise in research and health topics. I think it’s my work as a coach and a clinician that makes me a good writer, though. I’ve learned that different people need information presented in different ways. Finding the right word, story, or analogy to get an idea across is a key skill for writing just like it is for helping clients.
RRB: What’s your worst writing habit, flaw or weak spot?
EK: I tend to lean into the technical a little too much sometimes (you can take the writer out of academia, but…). I get started on the science and I have to remember that the jargon and level of detail that’s appropriate for professional scientific communication isn’t always effective or appropriate in articles for the public.
RRB: Where do your story ideas come from?
EK: I have two main sources: first, I follow medical news, so I routinely get alerts to my inbox of new guidelines and studies that are published. Second, I draw on my own life and experiences, and when I get curious about something, I like to investigate.
RRB: What do you know about writing now that you didn’t used to know?
EK: Connecting with the reader is the most important task. It doesn’t matter how good your point is if no one reads it. This is a huge shift from academic writing (which, honestly, very few people read. Coincidence?)
RRB: When and where do you do most of your writing?
EK: I often write early in the morning. That’s when my head is clear, my energy is high, and my phone is on silent. I like to have coffee and quiet time before anything else, and writing is a great complement to this practice. That said, I also think it’s immensely valuable to step away from a project and come back later, so I often give my morning’s work a second look later in the day or the next morning. I think blogging and email have made it too easy to hit “send” on things that would benefit from sitting overnight.
RRB: Do you think of yourself as creative, and how does that play into your writing?
EK: Yes! I’m so glad you asked this question. It took me a while to embrace nonfiction writing as a creative act, but it absolutely is. I’ve always enjoyed creative hobbies— painting, poetry, dance— and this kind of writing scratches the itch, too. Creativity is all about drawing connections between things that seem disparate, discovering new angles, and communicating something in new ways.
RRB: Your favorite strategic advice for other non-fiction article writers?
EK: Write about things that you’re curious about yourself. Taking the reader on a learning journey with you is much more compelling than explaining something you’re the leading expert on. I also find that genuine enthusiasm comes across on the page and that makes your work fun to read.
RRB: Your favorite self-editing tip?
Elizabeth Knight: When in doubt, take it out.
Writers on Writing is a regular feature in the Writing Guide, in addition to weekly guides and essays. Paid subscribers also get additional, exclusive writing guides each month plus a complimentary editing and coaching session with me (learn more here).