Writing a business book is a big project. It takes hard work over months, and perhaps years, to get the job done right. But hard work isn’t the only thing that it takes to write a great business book. There is writing technique and learning how books come together. There will be the discomfort that comes with growing and learning new things.
There are also some unique challenges that don’t exist with most other kinds of writing. Here are a half dozen of those challenges.
Challenge: Get Everything Out of Your Head
Most of the first-time business authors that I work with want to ponder too much and write too little. Yes, you need to give some thought to what’s going to go into your book, but if all you do is think about what will go into it, you’ll miss some important things.
Whether you’re writing, outlining, or filling out little note cards, make sure that you get all your thoughts out of your head and into a file or onto a page where you can play with them. That’s how you’ll find the gaps in your thinking. That’s when you’ll see connections you didn’t see before. It’s true that great writing is rewriting, and the only way you can start rewriting is to get stuff out of your head.
Challenge: Get Things in The Right Order
The ideas in your brain exist in a cloud of connections. There’s no order and you can move easily from one idea to another. You can do that on a web page, but you’re not writing a web page. You’re writing a book.
You must get your key ideas in the right order so that you can present them in the linear medium that is a book. Start by identifying the key ideas. Then spend some time putting them in order. You can use a standard storyboard, index cards, or PowerPoint to do this.
One trick I use with clients to help them figure out the proper order for things is to have them write out the transition between key ideas in a sentence or two. If the transition comes easily, that idea sequence will work. If it doesn’t keep rearranging things until it does.
Challenge: Writing the First Draft
No matter how much good preparation you’ve done and no matter how much you’ve gotten out of your head, it will be a big job to get the first draft done. Don’t worry about getting it right. As Ernest Hemingway and several other people have reminded us, “All first drafts are crap.” If you realize that your first draft is going to be the worst draft, you won’t have such a hard time writing it. Don’t fret about getting everything write. Get it down so you can start making it better.
Challenge: Analyze Your First Draft
Your first draft is the beginning of your book. Once you’ve written it, you need to analyze it. Look for three specific things.
Look for redundancies and other things you can cut. Your objective is to write the leanest book that you can that does the job you want it to do.
Look for gaps and places where you need more. Each of your key points should be illustrated with a story or anecdote and supported with research. Most of the first drafts I’ve seen need more stories or research support.
The final thing to look for in your first draft is emergent themes. I call them “red threads.” When you read through your first draft, you will notice thoughts and phrases that you return to again and again. That’s your brain telling you that those things are important. Identify them so that in your next draft you can highlight them and make sure they show up more often.
Challenge: Check Your Facts
Most of us think that we’ve nailed down our facts and that we verified the stories we usually tell. Most of us are usually wrong. Most of the time we pick up stories and facts by reading them or hearing someone else. Even if they were accurate to begin with, most stories change a wee bit with every telling.
Check the stories you tell to make sure that they actually happened. If you can’t verify the specifics, say so in the book. Check the research findings you use. Make sure that you are rendering them accurately.
In my experience, this is harder work than it seems at first. You’ll find that you may think you have a source for a story only to discover that your source is someone who simply copied the story from someone else. Run things to ground as far as you can. When you can’t, admit that in the book.
Challenge: Get Help
You may or may not use a writing partner like me, but writing a book should not be a one-person project. Get feedback from people who know your topic and from people who are like your ideal reader. Get research help if you need it. This doesn’t have to be appallingly expensive if you find some library science students willing to do the work. Before your book goes into any kind of publication process, have a professional editor edit or go over it.
Great books don’t come easily or quickly. Expect to be challenged during the process. Expect the discomfort that comes with getting better and with growth.