Writing a Book: Learning from Susan Finerty

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I loved working with Susan Finerty while she wrote her book, Master the Matrix: 7 Essentials for Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations. She had in-depth knowledge of her subject and a wealth of experience, research, and stories that she used to make her points.

Recently I interviewed Susan for my Stories of the Book series on how real people write real good business books. Her trajectory was familiar.

Like most authors, Susan thought for years about writing a book. For most authors that first impulse is unfocused, just write a book, about something, sometime.

What usually happens next is that something sparks the idea of writing a particular book. Susan had worked in a complex organization. She had several bosses and competing priorities and demands. In her consulting practice she saw the same issues cropping up in her clients’ organizations.

She was passionate about helping them cope with “the matrix” and she could help them one on one. But when she searched for a book she could recommend, she couldn’t find one. She thought: “I should write that book.”

That’s normal. Most of us start out thinking about writing a book and move to thinking about writing a particular book or a book for a particular audience. It usually takes an outside push to make us decide to go ahead.

The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 was the outside event for Susan. It got her thinking about re-working her consulting business to highlight the thing that made her distinctive, where she was an obvious expert. It was decision time.

When that happens to most of us, internal forces push and pull us toward making a decision or continuing as we are. The financial crisis pushed Susan to get on with the book. The appeal of what the world would be like pulled her forward. But other things held her back. Writing a book is a major undertaking and it means making changes in your current situation. And there’s always anxiety about whether it will work, whether you can do a good job.

That’s where the issue was for Susan. Here’s how she phrased it in our interview.

“I’m looking at all these huge names that come from these huge consulting companies and they have the backing of all these publishers.  And I’m like, oh my gosh, that’s not me.”

Well, we know that Susan wrote the book. What finally pushed her to decide to do it?

She met a woman at a social gathering and they hit it off. They spent the evening talking and exchanging ideas. She was a mom, like Susan, and had a consulting business, like Susan. And … she had written not just one book, but several.

“Here was this normal suburban mom that has a successful business built on her book.  And I think seeing someone and talking to someone who actually made it happen made me think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I could totally, totally do this.'”

And so she did.

Bottom Line

The stages Susan went through to decide to write her book are similar to how almost every author decided to write their first book. Her anxiety that “authors are special people” is common, too. But the truth is that if you can read a book, you can probably write one. And if you have experience or expertise that will help readers make progress, you can probably write a good one.

What about it?

What’s keeping you from writing your book?


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