Learning how to become a good writer can be second nature for people who operate a business. You’re in business because you’ve mastered a specific set of skills that makes you be in demand. But before you went into business, you first had to acquire those skills and practice until you were able to develop your mastery.
It’s really not that different when it comes to writing. To learn how to become a good writer, you first need to learn the right steps to follow, and then you have to put in the work and dedication necessary to become good at it. Like in business, there’s no substitute for “rubber to the road.”
If you’re planning to write a nonfiction book to increase the visibility of your business or your professional career, you need someone to show you what those steps are, and that’s the reason I’ve decided to write this article. Let’s begin…
What Are the Qualities of a Great Writer?
Let’s start by giving you a bird’s eye view of what you’ll be striving for, so that you can set your internal compass in the right direction. Great nonfiction writers have the following qualities:
- They always connect with their audiences on an emotional level
- They write with compassion and empathy for their readers
- They’re never pretentious, condescending or dogmatic in their writing (no matter how celebrated they are)
- They inform their writing with a desire to serve, not with their egos
- They give without holding back and without expecting anything in return
These qualities aren’t really that different than those required to run a successful business. After all, your deep connection with your clients is what keeps them coming back. Your compassion and empathy are what allow you to put yourself in their shoes so that you can better serve their needs. Your authenticity is central to your connection. Service is the foundation of your business. And finally, the more you give of yourself the faster your business seems to grow.
How Can I Become a Better Nonfiction Writer?
Business nonfiction is about problem solving. Your audience will buy your book for one reason and one reason only: to solve a problem or challenge that they have in their lives or in their businesses.
As a result, your book has to be addressed to an audience of one – every reader has to feel that you’re talking directly to them and no one else. Your one and only goal is to be of service to your audience: you aren’t writing just to teach them something new, you’re writing to help them change something that’s been bothering them for a long time.
Ask yourself the following questions whenever you sit down to write, and also when you finish writing each book session:
- Who is my audience? Describe them in as much detail as possible. What are their fears, Challenges, Desires, Hopes, dreams?
- What do I want my audience to learn from my writing today?
- Am I communicating as clearly as I can? Am I being concise and using an economy of words?
- Am I being eloquent in my message?
- Am I using “You” instead of “We,” “Us,” “They” or “I”?
- Are my ideas presented in a logical way?
- Is my writing flowing naturally from section to section?
Unlike fiction, where the goal is to take readers through the emotional journey of the book’s characters, problem-solving nonfiction is about taking readers through a personal healing journey (or problem-solving journey if your book is intended for businesses);
How Do You Write a Successful Book?
To write a successful nonfiction book (or a book of any genre, for that matter) you need to embrace the same rules bestselling authors use. Below, I’ve compiled six rules followed by the most celebrated authors, from Stephen Covey to Stephen King.
What Are The 6 Rules For Writing?
Rule #1: Read Lots of Books!
If you want to become a successful filmmaker, you have to watch lots of great movies. Before you can “do it” you have to see “how” it’s done by the best in the business. So, if you want to become a great nonfiction writer, you have to read lots of great nonfiction books – there’s no better way to do it.
I’m not talking about listening to the audio version while you commute to work, or reading the Cliffs Notes posted on some website. I’m talking doing some serious, active reading armed with multi-colored highlighters.
Naturally, you want to focus on books in your niche first, but it’s also very instructive to read popular books in other niches as well – you want to deconstruct how those books were able to connect with so many millions of people.
What techniques did the author use to create an emotional bond with their audience? How did they identify their problem, how did they address their “audience of one” so effectively and how did they deliver their solution? What did they open with? How did they close?
Study the masters and reverse-engineer their techniques so that you can apply them in your own book.
Rule #2: Create a Strong Outline
Successful nonfiction writers never start from a blank page and then wait for inspiration to strike. They first create a well-thought-out outline of their books (for detailed instructions, read my article How to Create a Book Outline Step-by-Step: A Guide for Nonfiction Writers).
Your book outline is your roadmap. It not only establishes the overall arc of your book, but it also informs you as to what exactly to write about. Once you have a completed outline and you sit down to write, you’ll never have to wait for inspiration to strike.
You’ll know exactly what to write about and you’ll never be at a loss for ideas. In fact, you’ll come up with so many ideas that you won’t have time to write them all in one siting!
Outlines are that powerful. Why? Because as you’ll find out when you read my article mentioned above, your book outline is a structured way to capture what’s already in your brain. It condenses into an easy-to-follow format the many years of experience in your field of work, all the skills that you nurtured over the years and all your experiences with clients.
Your outline will capture all these important details that are part of your business which are second nature to you. This is the reason why you don’t have to “think” about what to write. The information is already stored in your brain and ready to come out through your fingers and onto the page or the keyboard as soon as it’s prompted to do so by your book outline.
Rule #3: Write Every Day
This is the cardinal rule of successful writers.
Developing your writing muscle is no different than developing your physical muscles. You need to exercise them… but that’s not enough. If you went to the gym one day and then stop going the rest of the week, by the time you hit the gym again the following week almost 100% of your gains would have been erased.
That’s how muscles work. They need to be constantly conditioned in order to grow and become stronger, and the writing muscle is no different. That’s why successful writers write every single day.
Now, you might be thinking – but wait a minute: they’ve already paid their dues, they’re already good at it, why do they have to keep writing daily? For the same reason Dwayne Johnson goes to the gym every day even now! For muscles to retain their strength they have to be constantly exercised.
As you practice and gain more experience writing, two things will happen: first, the quality of your writing will improve dramatically and second, your writing will speed up without loss of quality. If you were able to write 500 words per hour at the beginning, you’ll be able to write 750 words per hour a few weeks later – but you have to practice every day.
Now, I understand that you’re busy running your business and I’m not saying here that you have to write for 4 or 5 hours every day – that’s simply not feasible unless writing is how you make a living. But you need to be able to carve out 2 hours a day for writing.
When you do come up with your writing schedule, make sure that 1) you write outside business hours or key family time, such as meals, putting children to bed, etc. and 2) you’re not to be disturbed for any reason other than in case of emergency. Writing requires uninterrupted time – and I’m referring to people as well as electronic devices!
Rule #4: Use the Tools in Your Writer’s Toolkit
Now, let’s get switch the focus to writing technique. I’m not going to list a comprehensive set of writing rules below, but just the basics to get you going in the right direction:
- Stay away from never-ending paragraphs. Always break down your thoughts into pieces that are easy for readers to digest. Long paragraphs are exhausting to read and a sure way to dampen the flow of your book.
- Make sure you stay on point and that your writing is clean. Don’t “embellish” your sentences with extra, flowery words that don’t add anything useful. It can backfire and make your writing sound pretentious, which breaks the connection with your reader.
- Refrain from using adverbs unless they add something meaningful to your sentences (e.g. write “That was difficult to learn” instead of “That was quite difficult to learn”).
- Refrain from making excessive use of adjectives for the same reason (e.g. write “That was really good” instead of “That was really, really good”)
- Make sure you follow proper rules of punctuation and capitalization.
Rule #5: Don’t be Afraid to Slash and Burn
Never get married to your words, no matter how beautiful they are or how hard you worked to shape them. If they don’t serve your text, it’s always better that they end up on the cutting-room floor.
This is something that can be hard to do when your ego gets in the way. Whenever you feel resistance to “cut out” something you feel proud of, but which maybe doesn’t work anymore after a couple of rewrites, think hard whether the current wording works for the reader or would be confusing to them, whether it helps the flow of the paragraph or hinders it, and whether it serves the story or undermines it.
A perfect example of the slash and burn technique can be observed in great films. When you get the movie on DVD and watch the extras, often you’ll find the scenes that ended up on the cutting-room floor. Many times they’re actually great scenes full of wonderful acting, nuance, and excellent execution, and yet if they had been left in the film they wouldn’t have worked.
When you have to cut something out, remember that you’re writing your book for your audience and not for yourself. Even if you’re super proud of the phrase you need to let go of, just think that your audience probably won’t care if it doesn’t serve them.
Rule #6: Rewrite Constantly
Another great trick from successful authors is writing from a stream of consciousness. They never let critical thinking get in the way of their creative juices. What this allows them to do is to be prolific in their writing as they let all the ideas flow onto the page, uncensored.
Then, they step away from the writing to get some distance, let a day or two go by, and ultimately begin the process of rewriting. You want to follow the same best practice.
When you are done with your initial pass for a section of your book, don’t self-edit right away. Instead, set it aside and start working on a new section. A day or so later, do a couple of top-to-bottom rewrites of the initial section, which will now read much better, and set it aside again.
When you finish a complete chapter, put it aside for a few days, then do a full chapter rewrite or two. And when you finish the entire book, put it aside for a few weeks, then do a full book rewrite or two before you hand it over to your editor. Every time you step away you gain distance, which allows you to see your writing from a new perspective. Distance lets you to see the forest for the trees.
Rewrites are a process of continuous improvement that’ll take your writing to the next level.
You now have a great set of strategies that successful nonfiction authors use time and time again to write compelling books. Master them and you’ll be able to create a nonfiction book that is truly on point and of service to your target audience.
If you’d like to go more in depth on writing strategies for problem-solving nonfiction books, I have a companion article entitled: The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.