The prospect of sitting down to write a book when you’re not a writer can freeze you in your tracks. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a shorter length eBook as a lead magnet or the signature book that outlines your hard-learned business philosophy, the idea of coming up with all those words and then putting them in one place and in a specific order is daunting.
Fortunately, you live in a world where technology and communication can rescue your ass. (As I type this, I wonder if I’m going to change that line. I’m betting not. I’m feeling kind of sassy today.) For starters, we’re not using clay tablets or making our own quill pens. We’re not even using typewriters and carbon paper any more. (I’ll wait while Gen Z Googles carbon paper. Probably the millennials, too.) You don’t have to go to the library to research topics or open up a dictionary to see if you’ve spelled something correctly. You’re already halfway home.
But you still have the mountainous task of getting the words out of your head and into your computer. How do you write a book when you’re not a writer?
Easiest: Hire it out
I have ghostwritten dozens of books and courses over the past 15 years or so. Almost all the books I have worked on involved input from the client. I spent hours in initial conversations, then created an outline of topics which was reviewed and approved by the client. From there, we went into a series of interviews, usually two hours at a time. Most books took anywhere from six to ten hours of interviews. Once I had written the first draft, I would send it to the client for review. They would send it back to me with notes, revisions, any changes they wanted.
I walked you through this process so you will know that even hiring out your book will involve time and effort from you. Some ghostwriters research and write the book without input from the client. Most of the books I worked on were more personal and involved the client’s time and attention.
While hiring a ghostwriter is still the easiest way to write a book, it’s also the most expensive option. Good ghostwriters start at over five figures for a full-length book. For busy executives who can make more money doing what they do best rather than spending weeks in front of a computer screen, it makes sense to hire it out. For many others, it is too high a price to pay for something that might not bring a good return on their investment. Everyone’s situation—and goals for their book—is different. You need to do your own math.
Next Easiest: Talk it out
One of the hardest things for a writer to develop is “their voice.” When you first start writing, you’re self-conscious. New authors tend to be more formal in their language and lean towards big words to show that they know what they’re talking about. Calm down. The best books are written in a “me to you” style that makes the reader feel like they are sitting down with the author having a chat.
Talking your book allows you to focus on what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it. In my course, Write Your Book in 90 Days, I show you how to “talk your book” in a way that is very conversational and allows your words to flow. It takes organization and pre-planning—if you just sit down and start recording, you’re bound to get “lost in the weeds” and give up. Having an outline allows you to record in sessions centered around specific topics, rather than wander from topic to topic. This makes editing the transcripts into a first draft much easier.
The caveat to this method is that if you don’t do a detailed outline of your book before you start recording, you’ll end up with a disorganized mess that is extremely difficult to edit. While you want your book to have a conversational tone, people speak in starts and stops. They leave sentences—and thoughts—unfinished. I worked with a client who “confessed” that she had “talked her book.” I said, “I know. It shows.” The book was only about 15,000 words, but it had several sections that were redundant and was disorganized at best. She had paid for editing as part of her publishing package, but it was sadly obvious that little to no editing was done.
What I like about this method is it gets your first draft out of your head quickly. People speak at around 125-150 words per minute. That’s over 7,500 words per hour. Now, not all of those words will be keepers, but it’s a great way to get that first draft down on paper. Once you have the rough first draft, you can edit and hone your book to perfection.
Hardest: Grind it out
In fiction writing, people ask, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” A pantser is someone who just sits down and starts writing the book, letting the story develop as they go along and often not knowing where the story is going to take them next. A plotter is someone who plots out the entire story line, creating a detailed outline, usually down to scenes for each chapter. Both methods work. One might be easier than the other depending on the individual writer.
For nonfiction, it’s best to work from an outline. Because the author is usually explaining something, whether it’s a business philosophy, how-to process, or straight information on a subject, having an outline ensures that the subject matter is covered fully and that nothing is left out unintentionally. In addition, an outline can expose any “holes” in chronological or linear processes.
The other benefit of working from an outline is that you can choose which section you want to work with on any given day. Eventually you will have to work on the sections you have skipped over, but working on your book in sections makes the job easier.
Every Writer Needs an Editor
Let me point out, for better or worse, that lack of writing skill has not stopped many an indy author. I think there are many capable business people who did not pay attention in English class and can’t spell worth a damn. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have important and useful information to share. It does mean that they should hire an editor and a proofreader to go through their manuscript. Editing is not cheap. It’s also something you don’t want to trust to your 16 year old niece who got an “A” in English class. There are different levels of editing. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, you need an outside pair of eyeballs checking your work.
Being an author increases your credibility and authority and opens doors for you and your business. Don’t let the fact that you’re not a “natural” writer stop you from sharing your knowledge.