Thursday, September 1, 2022

Best Writing Advice Ever: Write What You WANT to Know

by Lynn H. Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

We’ve all heard the classic writing advice to “write what you know.” 

And it makes sense for some things. If you know a lot about horticulture, it follows that you would write about plants and not about something else, like space exploration.

But, say, hypothetically, that you’re a thirty-something mom of two with an engineering degree and you want to write a novel. The “write what you know” advice might make that writer think she should write a novel about a mom with young children. She could mix it up a little, and she could be an engineer and the hero is a single dad with two kids. 

We could work with that, but there’s just one teensy problem. 

This hypothetical thirty-four-year-old writer with a six-year-old daughter and a six-month-old son, a husband, and a Boston Terrier, doesn’t want to write about that because that’s her real life. 

Her real life is beautiful, but when she was a young girl telling herself stories, she was always the heroine. 

And she was always a spy. 

Our writer doesn’t want to write about moms with kids who live in the suburbs. At least, not unless those moms are in danger from a ruthless criminal who is trying to kill them. 

Our writer? She wants to write romantic suspense.

She isn’t a police officer. She was never in the military. She speaks English and has forgotten most of the Spanish she once knew. She grew up in a Christian home with parents who love her. She has no experience with jails or criminals. In fact, she’s never even received a speeding ticket. She’s never been mugged or been in a high-speed chase. She’s seen spent nuclear fuel rods with her very own eyes, but she’s never disarmed a bomb. And while she isn’t a bad shot, she doesn’t carry a weapon.

What should she do? 

She could try to “stay in her lane” and write what she knows. But, honestly, that would be b-o-r-i-n-g.

Instead, she should write what she wants to know. 

Now, I know what you’re going to say because this is the number one question aspiring authors, and many readers, ask. 


The answer to that is as simple as it is difficult.

You have to ask. 

There are some writers who have no problem with this. Their extrovert self comes out to play and they engage total strangers in conversation, picking their brains for all the juicy bits of info they need to make their story sing. If this is you, let me just say, I’m jealous. 

But when you’re still in the phase where the idea of saying, “I’m a writer” makes you hyperventilate, the concept of reaching out to someone for information can be crippling. And all kidding aside, I get it. 

Our hypothetical writer nearly died from embarrassment the day she went to the library and checked out a stack of books on writing craft. She was terrified the librarian was going to ask her if she was a writer. At that point, there was no way she could ask anyone anything. 

So for the first several years of her writing journey, she did almost all of her research with books and the internet. She went to conferences and attended the Writers Police Academy. 

But eventually, that wasn’t enough. She was shaking the day she asked a friend who had been a detective if he would be willing to chat with her. He was. He answered all her questions, and to her absolute shock, she survived the experience. 

This was good, because the next time she needed to ask for help, she wound up spending two hours sitting in the Barnes and Noble cafĂ©, interviewing a man she’d never met before, but who had experience in the two things she needed to learn about—diving and homicide investigation. 

She’s working on her ninth novel now. Since she started writing romantic suspense, she’s interviewed divers, cyber security experts, secret service agents, paramedics, police officers, and many others. She’s spent hours sitting across from people who graciously shared their personal experiences with everything from health issues to cultural norms to addictions.

It turns out that most people like talking about themselves. Sure, people are busy. But if they’re passionate about their job, their hobby, or their culture, they’ll give you more info than you could ever use in your story. 

Is it easy? Well, maybe for some people. But our hypothetical writer still feels like a complete goober every single time. She gets nervous. She stresses about it, and she walks away wondering if they believe she is a complete idiot. Eight books and three novellas into this gig, and she still gets queasy just thinking about it.

But she does it.

She asks. 

She learns.

And she writes what she wants to know. 

Here’s the tough love friends. No one can do this part for you. You have to ask. You have to put yourself out there. You have to be brave. You have to be willing to look foolish so you can learn. 

You may not need to learn about the dark web or what it feels like to shoot a rifle. You may need to spend time in museums, historic homes, or *shudder* with teenagers! 

Whatever it is you want to write about, the advice is the same. Ask. Learn. Then write what you want to know. 

Is it scary? For me? I mean, our hypothetical writer? Yes. 

Is it worth it? Absolutely. 

And if you have more questions about this topic, you know what you need to do, right?

You have to ask. 

Grace and peace,


Lynn H. Blackburn loves writing romantic suspense because her childhood fantasy was to become a spy, but her grown-up reality is that she's a huge chicken and would have been caught on her first mission. She prefers to live vicariously through her characters and loves putting them into all kinds of terrifying situations while she's sitting at home safe and sound in her pajamas! 

Unknown Threat, the first book in her Defend and Protect series, was a 2021 Christy Award finalist and her previous titles have won the Carol Award, the Selah Award, and the Faith, Hope, and Love Reader’s Choice Award. Malicious Intent, the second book in the series, released March 2022.

She is a frequent conference speaker and has taught writers all over the country. Lynn lives in South Carolina with her true love and their three children. You can follow her real life happily ever after by signing up for her newsletter at LYNNHBLACKBURN.COMand @LynnHBlackburn on BOOKBUB, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, PINTEREST, and INSTAGRAM.

Featured Image: Photo by Flipsnack on Unsplash


  1. I thought this post was going to be about curiosity, but it’s so much more. Plus, the encouragement flowing from your “hypothetical”honesty, is worth more than I can say. Thank you, Lynn.

  2. This is such great advice, Lynn! You’ve inspired me to start researching a topic I’ve been thinking about!

  3. Very helpful and encouraging, Lynn. Thank you!

  4. This was how my last book came about. The Covid quarantines reminded me of how lousy I ( and a lot of friends and one particular spouse) are at self-care. So I wrote about my mistakes, misunderstandings and researched (famous people. friends, pastors, Scripture) to learn. It worked and God has been blessing --Susan L Fink