There are tons of pithy sayings writers usually hear when they’re starting out. “Kill your darlings.” “Show, don’t tell.” “Write what you know.” Most who are starting out don’t really know what these idiomatic pieces of advice actually mean. Even experienced writers have trouble cracking the code on some of these sayings. Ultimately, you can’t really distill sound advice down to a 3-word phrase. Sometimes, it’s better to rephrase this advice. For instance, when I tell people to write what they know, what I’m really saying is to “write what you like.”

Passion makes it easy.

“If you could speak on something for an hour without prepared notes, what would it be?” is an icebreaker question that uncovers your interests and hobbies. It also answers my “write what you like” motto. Have you ever picked up an interest that suddenly sucked an entire weekend away as you dove down the rabbit holes that uncovered the depth of this hobby? Did you spend every waking moment for a few weeks learning everything you could about this topic? Just like how I hate the “What do you do for a living” icebreaker question, I think we should replace it with “What are you passionate about?” If there’s something that you are passionate about, then chances are you “know” that topic—and could therefore write extensively on it.


I hope you’re fortunate enough to have a few different interests other than writing. When I look at the books I’ve published, the four non-fiction books I created all come from hobbies of mine. Climbing all the Colorado 14ers with my dad gave me the experience to write my memoir, Fourteener Father. My love of many movies spawned the blog that turned into the Cinema Connections book. Having kids and an appreciation for woodworking gave me the idea for This is Not a Drill. Making homemade ice cream with my wife and discovering how easy it was led me to Stop Screaming. I could easily talk for an hour or more on any of these topics, which is why I ended up writing books for all of them. Compared to my fiction writing, these books were a lot more fun to put together.

This is just an example of how passionate I am about homemade ice cream.

“But,” I hear you cry, “I don’t want to write non-fiction! I want to write fiction!” Well, you’re in luck. Each character that you write is intrinsically an author self-insert. Their hobbies can be your hobbies, which makes their experience in these things easier to write if you have experience in these things. Multi-dimensional characters are more interesting and realistic than one-dimensional ones. Interests add dimension to characters, and you can spread them out across a cast of characters to hide your self-inserts. For example, two of the characters in Buried Colony enjoy classic movies, just from two different points of view. Similarly, in “Soul Photographer,” the lead character is a professional photographer obsessed with analog film. While I have experience with photography, I still had to learn more about analog photography to make the character realistic.

Mind the gap(s)

While I didn’t have to do much research for my non-fiction books, I still had to ensure that I was correct about the things I was writing. This is the problem with the “write what you know” phrase—it does not leave room for the parts of something you do not know yet. Research can be intimidating, but if it’s something you have fun learning about, it doesn’t seem as daunting. Furthermore, to write about things you don’t know, find someone who has knowledge in that area—who is passionate about it. Just like you can talk for hours about the topics you love, I assure you that others love to discuss their passions just as much. Hopefully, their passion will rub off on you and you can then take on the mantle of research to create the story you want to write.

I think sometimes the writer’s block that comes with the blank page results from not “liking” what you’re about to write. You might feel intimidated that you’ll get some details wrong. While I usually tell people to just write and fix it in the edits, perhaps this is the one case where you should stop and dive into research before you continue. The other reason might be that you’re writing to chase a trend you’re not interested in. If you’re writing commercial fiction, it helps when you like the topic. After all, fans of these trends might get the sense that you’re not one of them if you don’t “like” it yourself. On the flip side, if you write what you like, and others like it as well, you have a built-in audience who will enjoy your book. In the end, I think writing should be fun—and what better way to have fun than to write what you like.


What about you? What’s something you could talk for hours about?
What is a hobby you have that your characters could also share?
What is something you want to learn more about?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *