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Author Authority: Write The Book You’re Qualified to Write

Focusing on your personal experience is a recipe for a great non-fiction book.
Author Authority: Write The Book You’re Qualified to Write
Photo by Matt Ridley / Unsplash

Before I decided to publish Play It Away, I was actually in the process of writing another book.

This other book was long — 120,000 words, or close to 200 pages.

When I asked for feedback, I kept hearing the same thing:

“Stick to what you know. Cut out all the theory. Focus on your experiences.”

That was great advice.

I decided to cut out the theoretical sections, which left a hole in the book.

Suddenly, the chapter on how I overcame burnout felt out of place. There was no transition into or out of it.

I cut that out, and decided to just publish it as a blog post.

To my surprise, that blog post went viral.

When I saw there was huge demand for that topic, that’s when I decided to pause production and turn that blog post into a book. That’s the story of how Play It Away came to be.

The most important lesson I learned was “Stick to what you know.”

And the lesson I most recently forgot? Stick to what you know.

I’m currently working on a book proposal.

At first, I wanted this next book to be about the power of play. It’s a topic I obsess over and have studied extensively over the last few years. I’ve read tons of books and articles on it, I’ve written dozens of posts on the topic, and I’ve hosted a bunch of live events and spoken on the topic.

But recently, when I was discussing the outline of the book with a friend, it became clear how much THEORY I knew, but had so little EXPERIENCE in.

For instance, these were some of the topics I wanted to tackle:

  • How children learn through play
  • How video gamers solve problems scientists struggle with
  • How to reduce childhood ADHD, mental illness, and injuries among the elderly
  • Why playfulness is one of the most attractive traits
  • The influence of play on heart disease
  • Meet Europe’s playgrounds for adults
  • How soldiers and prisons use play

It goes on and on…

While these are all fascinating topics to explore and worthy of a book, they all fall outside of my personal experience.

I can distill these topics into something that might be enjoyable for the masses to read, but the truth is that I don’t exactly feel uniquely qualified to write about them.

The good news is that I am uniquely qualified to write books on the topic of play. For instance:

  • How I’ve helped thousands of people reduce their anxiety and depression through play (including their success stories)
  • How I started a recess group for grown ups

It’s certainly not an enormous array of topics to write about, but that’s the point.

Having a narrow focus that’s founded on personal experience is a recipe for a great non-fiction book.

I had the opportunity to speak with Peter Gray the other day. He’s the author of Free to Learn, and a research professor at Boston College who studies the role of play in human evolution. He told me:

“Your book was very effective. People are stressed, and if you can convince the world that play is more powerful than yoga and meditation, then that’s a great thing. For me, yoga is hard and serious. I need to ask: what do I enjoy doing and have fun with? Because that reduces stress. too! And if I can bring that into my work, that’s an important message, so please do whatever you can to take that message home and make it popular. We’re writing in different styles, but we’ve got the same overriding message.”

The temptation of an author is to be the authority on everything related to their topic. And while I think it’s natural to immerse oneself in the topic they’re most fascinated with, I think it’s important to ask yourself:

“Am I uniquely qualified to write this book?”

Because truthfully, the book I wanted to write would be better written by someone else. I’m not the expert.

And the book I ought to write? No one else can write that but me.