When it comes to writing your book, are you setting yourself rules that aren't helping?
Most people think they should know how to write a nonfiction book even though they’ve never written one before.
They set themselves rules and then chastise themselves when they break them.
But a lot of these rules are myths so they're not helpful. They’re just popular ideas that people (maybe you’re one of them?) treat as facts.
So let’s bust 5 Pesky Myths, and then look at 5 Top Tips to help you write your book.
1. You have to be a brilliant writer.
No, you don’t, and for several reasons.
First of all, ‘brilliant’ is a subjective description. So, something I think is brilliant might differ significantly from what you think is brilliant. Which means it’s more about personal taste, and that’s what most writing comes down to: you either like an author or you don’t.
It's also a vague description. And the problem then, is lack of clarity.
And clarity is the most important thing in writing.
You don’t have to be ‘brilliant’ to be clear. You just have to write clear, concrete images so your reader can see them.
Think of your writing like scenes in a film. Your words have to walk your reader through each scene, frame by frame, showing them what you want them to see in a logical sequence of clear images.
And when you do that, don’t be surprised if someone calls you ‘brilliant.’
2. You have to have great grammar.
No, you don’t.
You have to have clarity.
Of course, the right grammar helps make your writing clear.
But we have grammar checks now, and there's nothing a good copy editor can't handle.
If you take a closer look, what you might find is that this belief you have - that your grammar's no good - is just a limiting belief and you're using it as an excuse for not writing.
If you trace it back, you might find it’s a hangover from school days when an unfavourite teacher told you as much.
But back then, we didn’t have spell check. And people were much more judgey about grammatical correctness.
Which means it’s a rubbish belief and it doesn’t serve you.
So maybe it’s time to pick a new belief that DOES serve you. Like, ‘It’s safe for me to write my book.’
Because anyone who wants to write a book can do it. And that includes you.
3. You have to use fancy language.
You definitely shouldn't use fancy language.
Because readers read at an average age of 12.
It’s not a damning indictment of our collective adult intelligence.
It just means that when we read, we want to get into a book quickly and learn what it has to teach us.
And we want it to feel easy. If we perceive something is easy, we’re much more likely to have a go.
Readers certainly don’t want to feel inadequate, which they will if you’re writing words they don’t understand.
And you shouldn't be writing a book to try and look clever. You should be writing because you want to share something and you want readers to buy your book.
So use commonly used words that a 12 year old can understand.
4. You need a completely original idea that no-one has thought of before. Ever.
No, you don’t. In fact this might be one of the worst things you can do.
Because readers read in genres and books are organised and sold in genres.
So you need to write in a genre that people recognise.
And rather than seeing how you can stand out, it's more helpful to envisage your book joining the conversation on your topic and asking yourself, which titles would mine sit next to on the shelf?
Because if you're writing about an idea that someone else - let’s call her Jo Smith - has already written about, readers don't go, 'Oh I've just read a book about that, I'm not reading another one.'
No! They're more likely to go, 'Great, here's another book on my favourite topic, let's head to the check out!' Because it reinforces the importance of the topic and adds a new perspective. And that’s very reassuring for the person who’s just read Jo’s book and loves the topic.
Some people worry about sounding like someone else, or them sounding like you (maybe this is you?) But if you’re writing in your genuine voice (which you should be) then your book can only sound like you.
5. You can only write when inspiration strikes
Waiting for inspiration to strike is like waiting for a bus to come.
You might wait for hours and then three will come along at the same time.
Or none at all.
And where will you be then?
Nowhere except downhearted.
Just because writing is a creative activity does not mean that doing it requires or relies on inspiration to strike.
Instead, it requires and relies on the following Top Tips.
1. Practise, practise, practise
You need to get your bum on the chair and your words on the page.
Think of it like a sport. You can’t expect to get fit and win matches if you don’t practise.
So sit down, open the notebook or computer and just start.
And if you don’t know how or where to start, try ‘I don’t know how to start’ and keep going…
Your writing will probably be a bit crappy to start with, but that’s fine and totally normal: no-one has to see it yet and you can always change it later.
But you do have to start somewhere.
Because if you’re spending your time thinking about writing your book instead of actually doing it, then it’s a lovely idea but it will never be a book. And if you don’t start, how can you ever finish?
So get a few words down.
2. Write first thing in the day…
If you write in the morning before your day gets going, you'll gain two huge benefits.
Firstly, it’s much more productive to do your creative work when you are rested: reactive work - like responding to emails or following up on invoices - does not require your creative energy and can come later in the day. So focus on creative work first, and reactive work second.
Secondly, you’ll find yourself putting off writing for the rest of the day because you’ll always find something more urgent to do. And then you’ll feel bad for not writing! So do it first and enjoy a sense of achievement right at the beginning of your day.
3. …And at the same time each day
You don’t have to write for a long time, you can do it in short bursts. But try and do it frequently and at the same time each day, because then you’ll get into the habit and build momentum. This increases productivity and efficiency as well as skill.
Try using a timer and write for 20 minutes, then stop when the timer goes off. It doesn’t matter if you’re mid-sentence because then you’ll know exactly where to pick up the next day.
4. Write Clearly
See above, on the subjective matter of being brilliant.
5. Stop Editing
You’ve probably heard this before.
Because the writing bit is creative, the editing bit is not. So you are wasting energy, forcing your poor old brain to switch between one activity and the other. And you're wasting time, settling down and focusing on the new task each time.
And (here's the kicker) you probably don’t know HOW to edit.
In fact, you’re probably doing it wrong!
Because how can you know if you’ve never learnt it?
Editors never start editing at the sentence level which is the first place most writers go. So forget about editing for now and focus on the writing.
Do you need support so you can write regularly and productively? Anna Fox is a Nonfiction Book Coach who helps Female Online Coaches to write their self-help book to attract more clients, help more people and scale their business. She holds an online space where you can come and write every morning, at the same time, for one hour. For more details, see The Writing Room.