Advice to a Friend about Writing a Book

Jan 16, 2013 | Writing A Book

Ed Batista describes himself as “an executive coach, a change management consultant, and a Leadership Coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.” I describe him as one of the best and most thoughtful bloggers around.

I’ve enjoyed his posts, which have titles like “Hammering Screws (Bad Coaching)” and “Boundaries, Not Balance.” I’ve thought he should write a book, so I was thrilled when he shared the news that he was doing just that in his post, “Self-Coaching and Harvard Business Review Press.

After jumping up and down and gleefully clapping my hands and after Tweeting the news, I sat down to craft a bit of knowledgeable and friendly advice for Ed. This is his first book and so it will be a great learning adventure. I offered three bits of advice suitable to the occasion.

The advice is not new. It’s not uniquely mine. But it includes things that have worked for me and for my clients. Here it is, with the personal parts stripped out.

Write a full draft, from start to finish, no stopping for in-depth research and no referencing any outlines or book plans. What will result is a clear idea of what research is truly necessary and the beginnings of a book with great flow and readability.

I call that the “zero draft,” the one before the first draft. I got the name and concept from Peter Drucker who wrote all his books that way. Write the zero draft. Throw it away. Start over. It works for me.

Find some intelligent fifteen-year-olds to test your explanations on. They’re educated enough to understand just about anything you need to explain and fearless about telling you when they don’t.

Write your book to a single person. No demographic descriptions are allowed. This should be a real person with a name, a life story, and bad habits. Writing to a single, real person will result in more powerful, useful, and conversational writing

There’s no one way to write a great book. Try things out until you find what works for you.