Psychology for Writers

Insights for the writer and the writing

What Should I Write About?

A 3-step process to getting started on that next book.

Woman at typewriter
It feels good to be inspired!
By the time you become an "expert" in a given area, it's often difficult to remember how much others don't know about your field. As a result, it can be hard to decide what to write about. Why would someone be interested in this topic? you may think. Isn't this just common sense?

As a college professor, I'm often exposed to people who are not as familiar with my field as I am. To be honest, I'm often surprised by how many holes exist in their knowledge, as well as by how many misconceptions riddle the knowledge they do have. And once I started noticing how many questions students bring with them to class, I started to notice how many questions people in general have about psychology.

Likewise, you probably  have a great deal of information others would love to learn—you just need to identify it.

Interestingly, the trick to doing this is not actually figuring out what you know that people will pay to learn about. Instead, the trick is figuring out what you're passionate about sharing with others. You see, people will pay to learn many of the things you know, as long as you present that information in a way that a) gets them excited about it and b) helps them apply that information to their own lives.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

1. Finding Ideas: What Are You Passionate About?

Think about your favorite topics, and not just the ones that have made you into an expert, but also the ones you love to talk about with anyone and everyone. If you're going to produce a new book, you're probably going to be dealing with the topic for some time, and if you lose your enthusiasm, it will show, and your readers will subsequently lose their enthusiasm.

So sit down and brainstorm: What really fascinates you or excites you?  What do you like to read about?  What do you wish there was more information about out there? 

For example, if you're noticing an informational hole in the market, so are other people.  And if you have expert background in that area, there's no reason you can't fill that hole. When I was getting my doctorate in psychology, I noticed a big hole in the writer's-guide market. Psychologists were talking to one another about how often the media gets information about psychology wrong, but nobody was reaching out to the people who were producing the media—writers. It seemed to me that somebody needed to bridge that gap-why shouldn't it be me?  My book The Writer's Guide to Psychology did just that.

2.  Filling in the Holes: Don't Be Afraid of Research

Once you've found an area that feels really compelling, sit down and outline what you  know about the topic.  As you work, you may discover holes in your knowledge. Go ahead and write out any questions you have for later research. (These are questions your readers are also likely to have!) If you're genuinely interested in the area, it won't be a chore to talk to colleagues, conduct interviews, or do other reading and research on the areas you need to fill in.

3. Remember Your Audience: Helping Others Apply the Information

One of the biggest mistakes I see other writers making when they're producing information for others-whether they're blogging, creating a digital book, or working toward a traditionally published work-is that they forget their audience. Always remember that you are writing for other people, and that they are coming to you to learn about ways to build their own businesses or improve their own lives. 

Also remember that people like to be taken by the hand. Don't just tell them about a concept or practice and expect them to figure out how best to apply it in their own lives.  In many cases, the meat of your informational product will be step-by-step guidelines for using the information you're providing. By the end of each chapter, remember to sit down across from your reader and discuss ways to apply the information in that chapter. 

To pull all of this together, figuring out what to write about—and doing the actual writing—is a three-step process. First you identify what you're passionate about teaching to others. Then you educate yourself (and others) about that topic.  Finally, you provide practical steps to effectively using what they've learned.

Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D., is an Assistant Professor at Columbus State Community College and author of The Writer’s Guide to Psychology.

more...

Subscribe to Psychology for Writers

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?