Writing a book isn’t easy. Just because you do something for a living doesn’t mean that knowledge translates easily to a manuscript. So, if you’re struggling to get a book out of you, don’t get discouraged. Know you’re not alone. It’s normal for first-time authors to feel frustrated. Seasoned writers get stuck with writer’s block too.
Some of the most common reasons for getting stuck in the mud on a book project include:
- Not having a big enough “why”
- Failing to think about who your ideal reader is
- Wanting to talk about everything you know vs. a manageable theme
- Trying to write a book as you would a blog post, article, or presentation
- Starting with the introduction
- Beginning without a chapter outline
- Writing from your perspective instead of the reader’s
Not having a big enough why
If you’re not getting excited about how your book may change lives, you’re probably not focusing on the right things. Simply deciding you’re going to write a book because you heard it’s a good marketing tool isn’t enough to keep you going chapter after chapter.
Instead, step back and delve into where you get your passion. If you’re a service professional, reflect on some of your most rewarding client cases. What was it about how you helped them that transformed a difficult situation into an easier one? How does your approach to problems differ from others? What do your best clients have in common?
Failing to think about who your ideal reader is
If you haven’t figured out who you’re writing for, creating content is going to be tough. Hint: in non-fiction, unless it’s a memoir for family and friends’ eyes only, it’s not for you. Sit back and consider what it is about the people you’ve been most excited to help that sets them apart from others. This is a good place to start with your ideal reader profile.
As you develop a chapter outline and delve into writing the pages of your book, picture this person in your head. Reflecting on big successes can help keep you inspired throughout the writing process too. Who have you touched in a deep way during your career? How did you do it? What about their situation were you able to change dramatically? Where did your guidance lead them on their path to success?
These are all good questions to ask as you create a strategy for your content. They’re also useful to keep revisiting as you find yourself flailing for inspiration.
Wanting to talk about everything you know
One of the biggest issues novice writers face is going off on tangents or trying to cover too much. Before you start pounding on the keyboard, organize your thoughts into a manageable scope. Just because you know how to write creative loan agreements doesn’t mean it belongs in your book about immigration issues.
It’s natural to go off on tangents when you’re writing a first draft. You can limit some of this by constantly asking yourself “is this important to the point I’m trying to make.” As you go through a first edit, keep considering if portions are relevant. I know it’s hard to cut material you’ve spent painstaking time crafting, but it’s a courtesy to your reader worth doing.
Trying to write a book as you would short pieces
Writing a book is different than crafting an 800-word article. You need to pay more attention to flow, organization, redundancies, word choice, and pace. Holding your reader becomes a bigger issue as you ask them to commit a larger chunk of time to absorbing what you have to say.
Unless your book is a compilation of blog posts, presentations, or other material you’ve already created, jumping around from topic to topic doesn’t work. A book is about leading a reader along a logical path. You should be asking yourself throughout the process what you want your audience to be able to do when they’re done reading. How you present your information should help comfortably lead them along this path. Go back to your outline and reader profile as you face challenges coming up with “what’s next.”
Getting stuck with writer’s block in the introduction
I recognize a lot of book coaches advise first-time writers to start with the introduction. Part if this is to help the writer get started with a comfortable topic: themselves. This is often counter-productive in two ways. One, many get mired in the process, trying to perfect an introduction that’s likely to get changed after the book is written. Two, it starts the wrong rhythm with the focus being on the writer instead of the reader.
My recommendation is to start with the chapter you’re most excited about. That may be the first, or one in the middle. It’s not necessary to write or present your ideas in chronological order unless you’re writing a how-to book. What’s more important is building passion around what you have to say. Getting started can be the toughest part. If you dive in talking about things that get your blood pumping, you attitude about the book will transform from chore to passion.
Beginning without a chapter outline
Doing a brain dump works for some people, but it’s a difficult way to try to write a book. If you don’t map out the structure of the book before you start, you’re likely to wander aimlessly. That’s a hard way to capture the attention of your reader.
It results in a lot of tangents, unclear messages, and a difficult read. This also tends to get you trying to cover too much. When you take the time to think about what you want to cover before you start, your book will be easier to write, and read.
Writing from your perspective
Sure, most first-time non-fiction authors choose to write a book to tell their story. Know, though, unless you’re famous, if your book is all about you, it will be a tough sell. Just because you’re sharing your knowledge doesn’t mean you can’t create something your reader appreciates and enjoys. That means making the book more about others’ concerns and perspectives.
It’s usually best to write an instructional book in 2nd person. That forces you to constantly consider what the reader might want to know. It also helps avoid the common pitfall of bad storytelling. Exploring your copy with an eye toward your audiences’ viewpoint reduces the chances you’ll tell long stories that have no clear point. It also forces you to create content that encourages understanding while keeping things exciting enough for people to want to keep reading.
Whether you’re writing a book for business marketing, back-of-room sales, credibility enhancement, or a passion you want to share, knowing your reader will help. Who they are should be determined before you start writing. Doing so will allow you to keep asking the question “will this help.” That, along with picturing them in your minds-eye can provide amazing inspiration when you’re stuck with writer’s block.
After all, if you’re not writing the book for the reader, why bother?