By Chris Adams

From Mark Twain to Big Mama, Michelle Singletary has had some of the best advice a writer could ever need.

Singletary is a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post and the author of books “Spend Well, Live Rich,” “The 21 Day Financial Fast” and “Your Money, Your Man.” She passed on her wisdom to National Press Foundation fellows in a lively and funny session that made writing about aging and retirement vital and interesting.

For Singletary (website, Twitter, Amazon page), the lessons she learned over a lifetime with her grandmother help her craft personal stories that shed light on larger themes. From her “Financial lessons from Big Mama,” to columns on scams affecting seniors, to regular chats with readers, Singletary sprinkles hard-won wisdom with expert research.

In her session with NPF fellows, she conveyed who she writes for (Big Mama, young adults, people struggling to understand the new financial world) – and who she doesn’t (financial folks, sources, colleagues). She reminded fellows of Twain’s adage to “write what you know.”

“Remember your roots – and bring them into the story,” she said.

When she did write that way, readers responded – in droves. When her column started, the Post was inundated with mail from readers. “All of them – whether they were African-American, Jewish,  whatever – all of them said, ‘Finally, somebody is writing in the business section something that connects with me,’” she said.

She went over some of dismal numbers on savings in the U.S. According to mutual fund giant Vanguard, the average retirement account balance for people over 65 is $200,000 – and the median is just shy of $70,000. That’s nowhere near enough to sustain people through a retirement that could last 30 years.