When a non-fiction writer lacks resources

“Cut your coat to suit your cloth” is an English saying. It means make your plans according to your resources. Don’t spend more than you earn. Become an experienced mountaineer before you try Everest.

Cutting your coat to suit your cloth is a sensible strategy. We make progress by building on what we already have. You won’t get far writing travel articles about Brazil when you can’t leave Mumbai. Cut your coat, write about Mumbai instead!


It’s because of resources that I used to think fiction writing was easier than non-fiction writing. Arthur C. Clarke wrote fiction about space without leaving Earth. A science fact writer is limited by access to scientific knowledge.

Back in the early days of the internet, when I finished my PhD I was devastated to realise I could never write about my specialism again. Going to research libraries was impossible because of distance and cash.

This experience shaped my attitude towards non-fiction writing. I thought it needed time and expense. Resources. After many years (because I’m a dunderhead) I recognised there is free material all around me.

Non-fiction writing can be like painting from real life. Take any object, scene or  experience, and write about it. Look at what artists depict. They paint pictures of street scenes, landscapes, animals and people. A writer can do that with words.


Last summer, a friendly robin landed on my table at the cafe where I like to write. The year being 2017, I reached for my camera and put the bird’s photo online.

I could have written about the robin instead. Every Instagramable moment is a writing opportunity.

In my non-fiction writing I must cut my coat to suit my cloth. It’s the only way to develop a daily non-fiction writing routine. I can’t develop as a writer if I’m giving my energy to dreaming about resources outside my reach.

I can’t write about my PhD specialism. I’ve missed a decade of research. I can’t write an investigative article about London politics. I don’t know anyone in the mayor’s office or have the experience. I can’t write about the Arctic either, even though I’d love to. I’m too far away.

I can write about London (the city I live in), the daily life around me, and about English nature. All that is cost free and everywhere I go.

If you’ve been blogging about your surroundings, I’d love to see your work. Share a link to your blog in the comment section below.  


2 thoughts on “When a non-fiction writer lacks resources

  1. Great post! You truly sound like you know what you’re talking about without being pretentious, and your writing is clear. I need to find a writing group – teacher – classes – mentor. Just trying to keep writing blog or book daily. It’s a fairly lonely process.


    1. Thank you 🙂

      I’ve really enjoyed the community aspect of the forums on some of the online writing and editing courses I’ve done. (Not all courses have friendly forums, unfortunately.)

      Liked by 1 person

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