When Is Something Worth Teaching?

This month I’m posting every day, picking the top voted reader question and answering it. With 37 votes, submitted by Andrew Holloway, is:

When do you know that you have something worth saying or teaching?

I often find myself caught between two competing thoughts: that I don’t know enough to help anyone, and that I should help anyone I can by speaking/writing to others about my experiences or how to do something. As a speaker and writer, was there a point where you felt you were “qualified” to speak or write? Did it evolve over time, or arrive at a moment?

The French Coin Drop is the easiest magic trick in the world to learn yet I never run out of people who have never learned how to do it. Even the most basic unit of knowledge will be new to many. In that case look around: if you’re the only one at the dinner table who knows the trick, guess who the best possible teacher is? It’s you. Worth is relative. If David Blane shows up yield the floor, but otherwise everyone is looking to you. Put simply something is worth teaching if the person learning it thinks it’s worthwhile.

The fear inexperienced writers have is that everything has been said already. Even if this is true, no one has read it all. You may be the first person that offers to teach them a specific skill, or tells a story in a way that they connect with. It’s Ok To Be Obvious since the person reading your work probably does not know everything you or your peers do. Oddly enough, there is always the largest market for people who can teach the basics in any skill, or tell stories that strike at the universal themes of heroes, love and loss. Experts and snobs complain about books that are too basic, but they’re in the minority on this planet. You don’t need to write for everyone, you need to write for your audience and you can’t find your audience until you start writing.

Personally I know I might have something worth saying when an idea resonates with me and stays in my mind. It could be a critique of something I heard, a powerful story, or even an interesting quote. I keep a notebook with me at all times and write these small observations down. The ones that stay in mind end up as drafts and it’s in the process of trying to write a draft that I learn if I really do have something worth sharing or not. I throw away many drafts and have many half written ones that maybe I’ll return to, but maybe I won’t. Creation is messy and accepting the mess is the biggest challenge for many people who want to make things.

I’m interested in writing and speaking about important things that go unsaid. I like to demystify, debunk and critique sloppy thinking and I try to be brave in taking on subjects that many people think are wrong but are afraid to speak up about. Even something as straightforward as How To Write A Good Bio is a radical simplification of the stupid things I constantly see people do. I try not to be a cynic, and even my critical posts like How to Call BS On a Guru are intended to elevate the reader’s thinking and not just tear down someone else’s thoughts. Even when I rant I work hard to offer an alternative.

My advice is to write and speak anyway even if you have doubts. It’s only through writing and speaking that you’ll improve your thinking and invite feedback from other people. That’s the only way to improve your judgement and craft. I’ve been doing this for years and if you like what I do it’s explained more by commitment than talent. The worst that can happen in writing is no one will read what you have to say. So what? Most writers aren’t widely read, including successful ones. But it’s through publishing and calling something finished that you invite the most useful feedback and that’s the only way to learn better judgement about both what’s worth writing about, and how to write about those things well.