If you’ve never written a book before, the process probably seems straightforward. First, you pull your ideas together and put them in order in an outline, like the one you did in school. Then, you work your way through the outline, writing the book. If it were that easy, though, everybody would do it.
Writing a book differs from explaining your ideas to another person. It’s also a different kind of writing from anything else you’ve done. Here are five challenges that make writing a book harder.
Okay, Book, You’re on Your Own!
When you explain your ideas to another person or present them in class, you can pick up clues that someone isn’t understanding and probe for the reasons why. You can adjust your presentation to audience’s level of understanding. You can’t do that with a book.
The book must stand alone because you won’t be there to respond to a reader’s questions or misunderstandings. That’s easy to say and very hard to do. As you write, try your explanations out on different people to see if they work. Be sure to send your book out to beta readers to get their insights, suggestions, and opinions.
The Curse of Knowledge
You’ve heard this one before. Once you learn something, it’s tremendously difficult to understand what it was like not to know it. Test your explanations on people who don’t know your subject. My favorites are intelligent 15-year-olds. Even if you’ve been explaining your ideas for years, you still need to test the written version.
The Narrative and The Network
The ideas in your head differ from the ideas you put in a book. In your head, ideas are connected through vast neural networks to other ideas. Connections go in every direction. When you write a book, everything must go in a straight line.
Jargon, Jargon, Go Away
If you’re an expert in your field, you may use jargon to communicate with people you work with. That’s great. It makes it easier to communicate with them. But the people who read your book don’t know your jargon.
You must either explain your jargon the first time you use it and then use it consistently or find ways to explain your ideas without using jargon. I favor using common language explanations throughout your book. If you must use jargon, limit it and make it part of your branding, but don’t overdo it. I remember a friend of mine explaining why he didn’t finish a particular business book. This is what he said.
“The author had a special term for everything! After a while, I felt like I was being inducted into a cult.”
Your Book Is A System
Your book is a system. If you change one part of the book, you need to change other parts, too. A good editor will catch many inconsistencies. You’ll make it easier on yourself, though, and on the editor, if you keep track of the examples, statistics, and key phrases you’ve used as you go. I developed a chapter planning form to help you do that. You can download it for free.
Writing a book is different. It’s different from explaining your ideas in person, and it’s different from other kinds of writing. Master the differences and write a great book.