Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had several conversations with people interested in writing a book but not knowing where to start. The “where to start?” dilemma is nothing unusual, but in listening to them describe their situations, I noticed a pattern.
I identified three different problems, but found myself giving all basically the same potential solution.
Multiple Problems: Where to Begin with Writing a Book?
Lack of Knowledge in the Subject
Simone had a strong interest in her topic, but had limited knowledge. Her subject integrated an arts-and-culture hobby with the business setting—an emerging area of management research. It had great potential for a book, but without a significant background in the combo subject, what would she write?
Lack of Experience in the Subject
Keller had just finished a certification program and started working in his field. In his client interactions, he used a handbook provided by the training program, but he wanted to create his own handbook, use his own materials. While Keller knew the academic content, he didn’t have any significant experience to draw on. Anything he wrote would be a regurgitation of someone else’s work; he did not yet have his own perspective to bring to the discussion.
Lack of Time to Write
Matt had lived and breathed his work for years. He knew it inside and out, and his clients regularly told him, “You should write a book!” But he was so good at his work that his schedule stayed full with clients. He couldn’t find time to get the information out of his head and onto the page; a book felt overwhelming.
One Solution: Writing in Building Blocks
For Simone, Keller, and Matt (pseudonyms all), I suggested basically the same solution: build your book in blocks over time.
The Building-Block Progression
Simone needed more knowledge and experience with her topic. How could she get it?
I suggested the following type of approach:
- Begin by writing short articles or blog posts that describe your idea. Share them and see what feedback you get.
- Give short talks on the topic. (Toastmasters is a perfect setting to give 5- to 7-minute speeches and get immediate feedback.) Which elements resonated? What did people understand or not understand? What did they agree or disagree with?
- Using what you’ve learned, develop longer talks. Again, gather feedback.
- When your understanding of your topic has solidified, develop a lunch-and-learn or short workshop to present the ideas in more depth. Gather feedback!
- Continue in a progressive fashion…to half-day workshops…3-month coaching programs…and so on.
As you move from simple elements like articles towards longer elements like workshops, your content becomes more and more robust. Along the way you capture feedback, lessons learned, and personal observations.
Then, when you are ready to write, you have not only a wealth of information but a wealth of experience that allows you to say “In my observation…” and “I have found…”* As a result you are able to bring your own vision to the topic at hand.
(*These are some of Alan Hoffler’s “power phrases.” When you use them, people can’t argue with you. After all, you are describing your own observations and experiences.)
Variations on a Building-Block Theme
Simone obviously had the furthest to go in terms developing her content—she had both knowledge and experience to gain.
Keller, on the other hand, could follow the same process with less of an emphasis on learning new information and more of an emphasis on capturing his own experiences. Over time he could begin bringing his own filter to the information he already knew.
But how would this approach work for Matt? He already had knowledge and experience; he did not need a progression.
My suggestion to Matt:
- Outline your book at a high level. You already know your main topics because you already know why your clients come to you—you know what you help them with.
- Build the book content in pieces (for example, articles) to fill each section of the outline.
- Deploy the pieces immediately to offer that value to your clients (or potential clients), and of course capture feedback as appropriate.
- Continue creating and deploying these building blocks. Once you fill all the gaps in your outline, you’re ready to pull the book together.
For example, say Matt coaches people on holding sales conversations by role-playing with them, but he’s never written about the process. He could write a series of articles to publish in the local business paper, thus giving valuable information to potential clients and increasing his visibility to them. Or he could write a white paper or report to give away on his website, again providing potential clients valuable information—and building his email list (for a future book launch!).
The key is to develop content that you and your (potential) clients can use immediately and that build towards a bigger vision: writing a book.
Writing a Book: Assembling the Building Blocks
Obviously once you’ve got all the pieces, you need to pull your book together. After going through this methodical process, you might find yourself confident and ready to write. Or you may engage a ghostwriter, editor, or writing coach to help you consolidate everything.
Either way, you are in a much better position: you have the knowledge, the experience, and all the building blocks ready to assemble your book.