I talk to a lot of people who want to write a book and one of the frequently asked questions I hear is “How do I start my book?” I specialize in non-fiction books, manuals mostly so if you are looking to write a novel, this is probably not the post for you. However, if you are a trainer, speaker or coach and you want to write a book or manual for your students and audiences, you’re in the right place.
One of the first questions I ask when speaking to a new client is “What do you want this project to accomplish?” Some people want a manual to go with their live seminar, some want a home study course, others want a signature book – a book that tells their story and lays out their philosophy while showcasing their expertise. This is a book that will be used as a PR piece to generate leads and establish authority.
Your book (or manual) must have a clear purpose. YOU must be clear on that purpose. Otherwise, when you are about one-third to half way in, you will be lost in the weeds, writing in circles and won’t be able to find your way out. That is the point where you will quit.
How do I know this? Because there is almost always a point when I am writing that I find myself lost in the weeds. The difference is that I have been paid not to quit. The other difference (the real one) is that I have been lost in these weeds many times and I know that I will find a way out. I have before and I will again. How? I have a map.
Remember doing reports in school and the teacher made you do that STUPID OUTLINE with the Roman numerals? That is your map. That outline keeps you focused, keeps you on topic. It also gives you a lot of flexibility. You’re working on a chapter and you just aren’t into it or you need more information than you have at the moment? Instead of stopping work, skip on over to another section and start working on that. I use this technique when I hit a wall – either lack of information or writer’s block or just not enough caffeine in my system. Sometimes I write all the easy parts first, then tackle the hard sections. Sometimes I alternate. But I always know what I will be writing about thanks to my outline.
The other benefit of an outline is that it allows you to build your book in chunks. You can move the chunks around like modules so they fit better or have a more linear logic. (You can also break the chunks up into drip campaigns, weekly training calls, etc.)
My goal when I write a “how-to” book is that anyone without specialized knowledge could pick up the book, follow my directions and achieve the objective. My secondary goal is to make the book interesting enough that someone would read it all the way through because if they don’t finish reading, they won’t have that success.
Start with what you want your book to accomplish. If it helps, tack a little sign up in your work area that states your purpose. Think about who will read your book. Then make sure that you communicate your message clearly, whether you are expounding on your philosophies or giving step-by-step instructions. Clear purpose leads to clear direction which leads to clear writing. Which leads to a very happy author.