You’ve decided to write a book to support your business and you’re now looking for effective writing exercises since you’ve never written a nonfiction book before.
So you do an online search to learn what the best practices are for effective nonfiction writing, because you don’t want to spend a lot of time with countless rewrites until you’re happy with the end result.
But there’s a problem. Nearly all the search results that come back show writing exercises for fiction writers or for creative nonfiction. There’s next to nothing for entrepreneurial authors like you who want to write a practical nonfiction book with strategies to help your readers solve a problem.
Most writing exercises out there will teach you how to use creative prompts or how writing about an experience from your youth will help you develop your writing muscle. However, little of that will be of much help to you.
What you need are clear strategies and the right guidance to help you develop the writing chops necessary to create practical, compelling nonfiction for your target audience.
This is the reason why I felt the need to create an article specifically for entrepreneurial authors like you, so you can calibrate your existing and diverse writing experience towards the task of writing your nonfiction book effectively.
Instead of spending time doing exercises that have little relevance to the content of your book, I felt it would be much more effective to break down the key teachings of most writing exercises into practical strategies that you can use right away.
How Do I Write Effectively?
The main goal of entrepreneurial nonfiction books is two-fold:
- To identify a core problem with your target audience
- To provide clear, actionable strategies to solve that problem
In order to do this effectively, your writing must be able to:
- Compel readers to take action
Also, you want to achieve all of the above by using a personable, engaging and clean writing style, while staying away from impersonal, academic and complex language (the later can work very well for textbooks and professional journals, but it ‘s detrimental for practical nonfiction books).
The good news is, if you’re an entrepreneur, small business owner, professional, practitioner or coach, you’re already naturally conditioned to communicate, persuade, train and compel people to take action, except that you’ll typically do that through direct contact with your clients.
So, all you have to learn how to do now is to transfer these abilities into your writing.
How Can I Improve My Writing Style?
As mentioned above, the best style for the type of nonfiction book you’re writing is conversational.
Whenever a reader picks up a nonfiction book written by a specialist who can help them solve a problem they have, they expect to develop a close relationship with the author. In fact, they subconsciously expect the book to be written exclusively for them.
If you, as the writer, use language that is addressed instead to a group of people (your target audience as a whole), then your book will lose its effectiveness.
Why do readers expect problem-solving books to be written just for them? Because most problems are personal by nature and as such they require a personal approach to solving them. Perhaps your target audience is ashamed of their problem, or feels self-conscious about it, perhaps they haven’t told anyone about it, or a myriad other reasons.
So, what you have to do, whenever you sit down to write, is to always think “one-to-one.” In other words, you need to frame your writing as if you were sitting down to work with a client without anyone else present in the room.
Now, how do you reconcile the fact that you’re actually alone when you write? You have to represent both your own voice as well as your client’s voice in your writing.
In essence, your own voice becomes the voice that communicates, persuades, trains and compels, and your client’s voice is symbolized by the use of statements of acknowledgment followed by rhetorical questions (e.g. you would first write: “Healthy fats eaten in moderation actually condition your body to burn fat at a much faster rate,” and posing as your client you would then write: “This is a radical idea, isn’t it?”).
Your ultimate goal is to develop a close one-to-one relationship with your audience to the point where each reader thinks that you’re just talking to them and no one else.
How Do I Improve Clarity In Writing?
Since the entire premise of your writing style is to have a personal conversation, you have to avoid obscuring this conversation with the use of writing crutches that muddy the waters.
For example, don’t over-explain things. Since writing is such a solitary endeavor, without having your subject in front of you giving you visual cues that they “got” what you just said, it’s common to make a point and then to keep remaking the same point again and again from different angles. When you’re alone with your thoughts, there’s no one there to stop you but yourself.
So, what’s the strategy to improve clarity when you write? By writing your sentences as they comes to you (even if you over-explain things) and then reading them back to yourself but switching hats as your client. It’ll become obvious pretty quickly if you’re overwriting.
Here’s another example. Sometimes writers confuse clarity with communicating like an instructor. The danger is that this style, though clear, can easily be perceived as condescending. This will break the one-to-one bond with your readers because no one likes to be talked down to, especially about their problems.
What’s the counter strategy? Seek to write with compassion – always put yourself in the shoes of your reader whenever you’re communicating your solution.
Final example. Some writers are so passionate about their solution that they unknowingly try to evangelize readers – don’t fall into this trap. In order to communicate effectively in written form, you always need to position yourself at the same level as your target audience.
If you position yourself high up on the expert’s podium, your audience will feel that you’re so much more evolved than they are that they’ll never be able to get there on their own and give up reading your book.
Remember, clarity has two sides. On one hand, you have to be clear when you convey your thoughts and ideas in writing. On the other, you have to meet your reader at the level where they are because clarity is also in the eyes of the beholder.
How Can I Write More Concisely?
A more technical extension of clarity is conciseness, or the ability to communicate clearly by using an economy of words. Sentences that are too wordy can become a big turn-off to readers.
Now, you do want to convey your thoughts in a personable, conversational way which sometimes requires the use of casual expressions, but you want to stay away from:
- Using “flowery” language (e.g. “There’s no doubt in my mind, or for that matter in the minds of most other people, that…” instead of “It’s obvious to most people that…”).
- Making excessive use of adjectives (e.g. “This approach is clearly and absolutely more advanced than…” instead of “This approach is clearly more advanced than…”).
- Unnecessarily embellishing sentences (e.g. “This is a mighty problem that is faced by the vast majority of people out there” instead of “This is a big problem that afflicts countless people”).
- Making unnecessary use of metaphors. If you can state matters clearly, you don’t need to use metaphors. Use them only if you have to mention a complex concept that is necessary for your thesis but which is unrelatable to the reader. You can then choose a metaphor that they can relate to.
How Do I Become More Eloquent?
To persuade your target audience to take action, you need to be eloquent in your message. Your book won’t be very effective if your calls to action aren’t compelling enough.
Here are some techniques you can use:
Paint a Clear Picture
Describe what your reader’s future will feel like when your solution is in place. Focus on their feelings and not just on the surface changes they’ll experience.
Teach by Telling Stories
Our brains are pre-wired to respond to storytelling – that’s why the most successful authors the world has ever seen are all fiction writers (the top three alone, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Barbara Cartland, sold a combined 7 billion books!).
Since you’ve been helping clients for so long, you’re bound to have a lot of really good stories you can share with your readers. Just remember that unless you’re re-telling a story that’s in the public domain, or you have written permission from a client (rarely granted), make sure to fictionalize your client stories to disguise identities, places and events in order to protect their privacy.
What you want to do is to communicate the spirit of the story and its lessons for your reader – you’re not required to document the facts.
As an extension of the above, make sure that you choose stories that reflect the current state of mind of your readers (i.e. use client stories that will resonate with the way your readers feel right now).
Address Objections Effectively
Your readers do want to hear about your solution – otherwise they wouldn’t have picked up your book. But they’ll likely have lingering objections in their minds and will read your book through a filter of skepticism. This is because there’s a good chance that they’ve already tried something else in the past that failed to produce results.
To be persuasive, you’ll have to show them clearly why your solution is different from the others, and one of the best ways to do so is to address and refute the most common objections one by one.
How Do I Write With My Voice?
Since the most effective nonfiction books are written in a personable and conversational tone, you’ll need to master your ability to communicate with your own voice.
What you don’t want to do is to stand on the lectern and become an orator, a professor or a guru. These are all labels that will disguise your true voice, which is the voice your readers want to hear. Remember that all readers of nonfiction want to develop a one-to-one relationship with the author.
How do you write with your own voice? By being authentic and sincere in the way that you communicate through the printed page, which incidentally is no different than the way you already communicate with clients.
If you were unauthentic and insincere with them, you’d be struggling in your business because problem-solving relationships only work when they’re built on trust.
You’re not selling an entertainment product so people can live vicariously and forget their problems. You’re selling a solution that addresses people’s problems head on.
Your strategy is to always think deeply about your relationship with your clients as you write your thoughts down for your readers. Always write with empathy and your sincerity and authenticity will automatically come forward.
Now we’re going to get a bit more technical. Aside from writing using a personable and conversational style, while writing with clarity and using your own voice, you have to develop a good writing technique.
To be quite honest, this is something that can only come with practice and there are no shortcuts for spending “time at the wheel.” However, to help you along the way, here’s a short list of writing techniques you want to keep in mind:
- Avoid using phrases such as “literally, ” “I mean,” “You know,” “It’s like…” Let’s call them “lazy language.”
- Use contractions as much as you can, otherwise you’ll sound less conversational and more academic.
- Don’t make excessive use of exclamation marks to make a point or you’ll risk being perceived as too “pushy” or “salesy.”
- Minimize the use of expressions that can “clutter” your writing (e.g. “In actual fact…,” “First and foremost…,“ “Needless to say…”).
- Minimize the use of the passive voice (e.g. “It was decided by our team to…” instead of “Our team decided to…”).
If you’re writing your first book, you may encounter some challenges as you embark on this uncharted journey. To help you navigate these waters problem-free, you’ll need a solid map that removes much of this uncertainly and safely guides you from beginning to end.
For this purpose, I’ve written a companion article entitled: Learn 10 Powerful Writing Habits to Fast-Track Your Nonfiction Book. In it you’ll find solid techniques that successful nonfiction writers use to create great products.
Last but not least, I wish you the best on your exciting journey!
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 the author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO 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, printing, distribution and marketing.