Do you want to learn to write well? Like any other complex skill, it looks a lot easier than it is to actually do. And, also like any other complex skill, it’s going to take a bunch of time and hard work. That’s okay, everything worthwhile you’ve ever done was hard.
After half a century of writing and 20 years of helping other people write books and write better, I know a couple of things. If you’ve got the basic skills to read a book, you can probably write a book. You’ll have to learn some things about writing and about books, but if you’re willing to put in the time and the work you can do it.
If you’re willing, here are the four stages of learning to write well.
You start where you are
Take stock of how well you write now. Compare how you write with the best business book writing you can find.
Most of my clients started with only the basic English courses they’d had in college. You may have done more than that. Perhaps you took a course in creative writing or in public relations. If you worked as a journalist, you probably already have the writing skills, but you must develop mental models of good business books.
You don’t know many of the important things that you don’t know. That’s okay, you’ll find out along the way.
Become a skilled writer and learn what makes a good book
Most of the people I’ve worked with were subject matter experts. They often created courses and gave speeches. But most of them had no formal writing training except in their college English courses.
If that’s you, you’ve got one big challenge. You must learn to write more simply. Business book and article writing should be conversational. You should write like you’re talking to a friend and not like you’re giving a presentation or trying to impress.
You should also learn about the different elements of the book. Business readers, for example, like chapter summaries, pull quotes, and bulleted lists of key points. Effective chapters draw readers in with an involvement device like a story followed by a promise about what the chapter will cover.
Learn to research so you can find stories and studies to support your points. When you write a business book, every point should be supported with research and a story or example.
There’s a lot to learn. That’s why many people who could learn to write a business book on their own choose to work with a ghostwriter, book coach, or writing partner. One of the side benefits of that is that you learn a lot about what makes a good book as you work through the process.
You’ll know you’ve attained mastery when you’re able to integrate all the things you’ve learned. There isn’t a clear finish line for this. One day, you’ll suddenly realize that you’re doing it.
Another sign of mastery is that you’ve developed writing processes you can use again and again. You’ll know how to find the stories that add richness to your book. You’ll know the writing rhythm that works best for you and how to structure a productive writing session.
Mastery is a big achievement. It’s conscious competence. But there’s still one step to go.
Become a virtuoso
A virtuoso uses the tools and techniques in new and novel ways. It’s unconscious competence. When you’re a virtuoso, your use the tools and techniques easily and naturally.
Start where you are. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Learn the forms and structures that work for business readers.
Simplify your writing. Make it conversational.
It takes a long time and a lot of work to achieve mastery.
Virtuosity goes beyond mastery.