Season 1 Episode 3: Derek Lewis on His Five-Step Process to Beat Writer’s Block
Derek: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Behind the Business Book show. Today I want to give you a little bit of hope, a little bit of inspiration. I know that everyone, every author struggles with writer’s block. It’s a fact of life. It’s actually part of the creative process. You can’t get around it. If you’re struggling with getting past a point in your manuscript, trying to figure out what to write next, sitting down at the computer, and either looking at the blank screen or having written so much, and having no idea where to go from here, wherever you are in the process, you have and will continue to encounter writer’s block. It’s normal. It’s natural. It’s the first thing that you need to accept.
The second thing you need to accept is it’s not really your fault. I’ll tell you why once we get into this a little bit. I want to first point out kind of where we’re going in this episode. First we’re going to talk about the real problem. There’s a problem behind the writer’s block that you need to accept and understand before you can get past it. Second thing is that you need to have a process for writing your business book. I’m going to give you my five step process that I use to successfully ghost write a number of books a year, plus coach others to help them through their books. Then we’re going to talk about what some of your blocks may look like, the different shapes that they take.
Then I’m going to give you a couple of easy tips and tricks to help you get past it. Then at the very end, I’m going to give you probably the most important thing that you need to know about writer’s block. In order to give you that, you first have to understand everything that comes before it. Yes, maybe I’m teasing you a little bit and telling you that the good stuff is at the end of the episode, but if I could just give it to you upfront, I would, and help you get on your way a little bit faster. To get there, you really have to kind of take the road less traveled with me, if you will.
One of the things I think that surprises some business authors is the idea that they can encounter writer’s block. Business books aren’t like any other genre. We’re not writing War and Peace. We’re not writing a work of literature. We’re not writing a biography or a history. We’re not writing something that has to be … Really, some people think that writing a business book, whatever kind of book you’re writing, whether it be a thought leadership book or a how to book or a big idea book, that business books somehow aren’t creative. Even with something like a history or a biography, how you choose to portray history, how you select some of the different acts that go in, how far deep you want to go into how Andrew Carnegie’s mother affected him or Rockefeller’s Baptist upbringing.
Those are facts. That’s the misconception that a lot of people have with business books is they are … They’re facts. Because they’re facts, you should just be able to present them. Like I was just saying, even with something like history, there’s still an art in how you present it and what you choose to present and the tone that you use and the style that you use and the focus. There’s creativity in there. Whenever it comes to pure business books, whether it’s personal finance or investments or marketing or management, leadership, data analytics, economics, because the subjects are usually boring to most people, they don’t see that, or they don’t believe that there’s a whole lot of creativity that has to go into it.
Now, for you and me who have written business books, or if you’re in the process writing a business book, you know that that’s not true. There is an enormous amount of creativity, of even art that goes into putting a good book together. Honestly, the subject of a book doesn’t matter, whether it’s a business book or a work of literature or your own life story. It is an act of creation, regardless of the subject matter. You can’t say, “Well, this is art, but business books are just how to. There’s no creativity in it.” You have to accept that there is. It is an act of creation, and because of that, you face the same creative problems that any other artist does in any medium, whether it’s sculpting or writing or lyric composing or song composing.
It’s an act of creation. The sooner that you accept that, the sooner that you realize that it’s really a problem of art, not just a problem of, “How do I arrange the facts and present them?” The sooner that you have a better understanding of the challenge that you’re actually facing … Let me say that the number one problem I see whenever people say, “I’m writing a block.” Whenever plenty of my clients come to me, and they say, “I’ve, you know, I’ve tried writing the book, and I just, I can’t. I sit down and, uh, you know, I look at the blank screen, and I just, I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve got all these ideas going on, but I sit down to write, and they all just evaporate.”
So many people, especially people who are not familiar with the artistic process, the act of creation, and I don’t want to harp on that, but I want you to understand that this act of creation, it’s probably quite different if you’re not used to writing long form works or you’re not used to thinking of yourself as an artist. If you don’t usually engage in creating something from scratch, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to go through the act of creation. Any artist, whenever they sit down, they can’t just create something from scratch. They can’t create, sit down at a blank canvas and create a masterpiece unless they have been painting for years and years and years. If you’re not a professional writer, how in the world do you think you can sit down at a computer, look at the blank screen, and then type the book from beginning to end?
If you’re not a professional writer, that’s an impossible task. Ladies and gentlemen, even for somebody like me who is a professional writer, I can’t sit down and write something perfect from scratch. It goes through rounds and rounds and rounds of revision and editing. I don’t sit down and say, “Chapter one, in the beginning, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and then write the book all the way through to, “The end.” That’s not how the act of creation works.
The first thing that you have to do is realize, whenever you’re sitting down to write your book, you’re not going to write it start to finish. I’ve seen people who’ve spent months, even over the course of a couple of years, on chapter one, wanting it to be perfect, wanting that first line to just be a zinger. Come out of the gate with a … I’m mixing my metaphors here. Let’s see. Step into the ring, and do a knockout punch on the first sentence.
That’s not the way that it works. You have to understand that sometimes you almost have to write the book before you even know what you’re writing. Sometimes you have to get finished with the first draft to realize, “Oh, I need to go back and revise the entire book.” I don’t want to discourage you with telling you how much work it’s going to be. At the same time, you need to realize that it is. It’s going to be a lot of work. It’s going to be a lot of revisiting. You can’t get bogged down trying to get it perfect at the outset. You have to get it written, then worry about getting it right.
The books that you see on the shelves have been edited two or three or four or five or six or seven times. Ladies and gentlemen, there is a distinct difference between writing and editing. Great books have been edited several times. Before they can be edited, of course they have to be written. You need to give yourself permission that you’re going to write an awful first draft. It will look … It will be something that you’re embarrassed to show your husband or your wife or your partner. It will be something that you want to stick in a drawer and forget about. It will be something that you’ll want to burn and bury the ashes in the backyard and hope that nothing ever grows there. It will look awful.
The sooner that you accept that you’re going to do something awful, the sooner that you can get through to the point where you can start editing it. It’s the editing process that makes it wonderful and awesome. You can’t get to the editing until you’ve gotten through the writing. As I … I’ve read a number of different books on writing and creativity and art and the act of creation. This is how I visualize it. There are really two people in my head. This is the part where I tell you I hear voices. Not only that I hear voices, but that I talk to them. I call them the critic and the muse. The muse is that spark of creativity, that something in me that says, “You have a book to write, and you’ve got to write it.” It’s that wellspring of ideas. It’s that feeling we get it where, “Wow, I can’t wait to, to get back home and sit down at my computer, or sit down with uh, uh, a paper, a pen, and write these ideas down.” It’s that feeling of euphoria and excitement that you get.
Then you also have the critic. It’s the other person in your head, the devil on your shoulder that as soon as you start writing, the critic says, “No, that’s no good. Nobody wants to read what you’re writing. This is, this is crap. It looked good in your head, but you know what? You’re just not a writer. Just put the pen down, and go back to your nice comfortable life.” Now, a lot of artists want to completely shut the critic out. That you have to put them in … Put him in his place. Shut the fear out. Only let the muse flow. I’ve discovered that the critic, that critical, analytical part of my mind is important. He’s saved me a lot of times, from just throwing some really kind of flighty, dumb stuff out there.
The critic doesn’t come up with anything new or interesting, inspirational, creative. That’s the muse. In my experience, I have to have both. I have to have the muse, and then I have to have the critic. The difference is that they have to have their places. There has to be a time whenever I’m ignoring the critic, I’m ignoring those voices in my head. There’s that doubt, and only allowing the muse to speak, only allowing the creativity to come out. To not criticize my writing, to not stop in the act of creation until I’ve gotten it all out. Once I get it out, then I can let the muse go back to wherever she lives in my head, and let the critic step forward, and let the critic say, “This … You know, this isn’t clear,” or, “This is jumbled,” or, “Um, you’ve got um, some faulty logic here or a weak point there.”
The critic strengthens my writing. I’ve got to let him out in his appropriate place. The muse comes out at her time, and then steps back. Then the critic steps out and gives his words, and then he steps back. I have to have both in order to have something that’s good. The takeaway of this is you have to have a writing. That’s where the muse is. Then once you’re finish writing, then you let the critic step in and help you with the editing. Then there’s a time whenever it’s, you get to a point in the editing, and you realize that you need to write some more. You need to expand a part. The critic has to step back, and the muse steps forward once again. There’s this playoff between the creation and the critique. You need both, but you need to make sure that you’re only allowing those two sides to speak at their proper time.
Enough about that. Let’s talk about the five step process, the writing process that I use to make sure that several ghostwritten books get out every year plus writing my own material. I’ve tried a couple of different ways with myself and with my authors. This is the natural, organic process that I found that works time and time again. The five steps are discovery, blueprint, Frankendraft, edit, and polish. The discovery process, I used to call it the interview process, whether you’re interviewing a client or interviewing yourself. Ask questions and answer them. What I realized, well I guess what I discovered, ha ha, is that most people, myself included, whenever you start writing a book, if you’ve been inspired by the muse, if there’s something in you that says, “You need to write a book,” you might not necessarily know what that book is about.
Ostensibly it might be about your industry or thought leadership, excuse me, leadership, your particular model of it. You may have a general idea, but you don’t really know, “What’s the anchor of this book? What’s the real point? What’s the reason for this book?” That’s okay, because there’s something in you that says, “I need to write a book.” The discovery process, instead of sitting down to write the book, the discovery process is really this where you’re stepping back. Instead of focusing on writing the book, you focus on getting a lot of ideas out of your head and onto paper. Instead of, “Okay, what does chapter one need to be about?” Whenever I’m writing, I sit down every morning, and I just start writing. I use paper and pen for my rough drafts, for my raw material. I write about whatever topic seems to come to mind.
For instance, right now, I’m working on a book, or at least a booklet on authority marketing. I sit down in the mornings, and I’ve written about competence. I’ve written about content development. I’ve written about using your time. I’ve written about other people’s perception. I’ve written about self-perception. I’ve written about what I’ve read in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. Some of this will make it into the eventual book that I write. Some of it won’t. Some of it’s kind of repetitious. I’m not worried about writing the book. I’m worried about getting all of these thoughts that are in my subconscious, all of these threads, pulling at them and getting them down on paper.
What I’m doing is discovering what are the different themes that I think are relevant to this book? What are some different stories that may make a good point in here? I’m not worried about, “Does this go in the book, or does this not?” There’s something in me that says, “It might,” so I write about it. Now if writing longhand or if typing scares you, you can talk and record. Have it sent off to a transcriptionist. Whenever I’m working with my clients, with my ghostwriting clients, this discovery process, that’s really all we’re doing. I’m asking questions, but really I let them have the floor. I let them talk about the insights that they’ve discovered, about a time that they had a great experience or an awful experience, a great customers they’ve had, what’s made them angry about their competitors, where do they think their industry is going, anything that comes to mind that is even remotely related to the book. We talk about it. We record it. We transcribe it. It winds up on literally black and white on paper.
Whenever you record it, whether you write it, either way, at the end of the discovery process, what you want is this mountain of raw material. Without even realizing it, you have created the cornerstone, the basic building blocks of your book without even meaning to write your book. In a way, you’re tricking yourself into writing your book, because you have gotten away from worrying about, “How is this going to look on paper,” to really just trying to get everything out of your head. I don’t use this word very often, because it’s a ten dollar word, and I try to stay away from those. It is an incredibly cathartic process. If you’ve never experienced catharsis, then go through this, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Once you have all of that raw material, what do you do with it? Obviously, you can’t just string it all together and create a book out of it. That’s why step two is what I call the blueprint. I used to call it the outline, but this blueprint, it’s more than an outline. It’s different than an outline. This blueprint, what you’re doing is taking all of this material and trying to organize it into themes, into buckets, I call them. For instance, for this authority marketing book that I’m working on, I’ll probably have a bucket that talks about professionalism. I’ll have a bucket that talks about marketing, specifically perception marketing. Maybe I’ll have a bucket that breaks that down into online marketing versus offline marketing. Maybe I’ll have a bucket that talks about working with clients, how to manage that perception of authority after you’ve landed the client or the sell.
What I want to do is just define these buckets so that I can start dropping ideas and different stories and anecdotes, and all these things that I’ve gotten in raw materials. I can drop them in these mental buckets. Literally, what that looks like, I print everything out. Then I start organizing them into stacks. In our old house, I would actually use the guest bed. It was a queen size bed. I could put all the papers all over the bed, and not have to worry about them being disturbed. We’ve moved to our new house. I have myself, I call it my workbench. It’s a second desk. I’m able to pretty much spread everything out there. By putting them in these different stacks, I can literally see how much material I have on all these different topics.
This topic looks like I got huge stack of papers here. Maybe I need to divide those up. This goes in this bucket, and this goes in this bucket. Maybe there’s a couple of stacks where there’s only one or two ideas. I need to redefine one of these other buckets so that I can take this stack and put it in this bucket. This way, I’m visually organizing all the material that I’ve got. You’re going to have to … It’s not an easy process. It’s almost driven me a little crazy.
Here’s the thing. Don’t get stuck in this trying to make it perfect. All you want to do is get it to the point to where you can actually start working with it. As you create your book, the act of creation itself will change some of your ideas about the book and how the book should flow, how it should read. Don’t get hung up trying to get everything perfect before you actually get working.
All you want is a decent working blueprint of the mental house that you’re building. If you’ve ever built a house or even something on a smaller scale than a house, you know that once you get in there and start getting your hands dirty, things will change. There will be some things that weren’t accounted for, or maybe the material is not quite the grade that you were expecting. Maybe there is a budget cut. There are going to be things that happen, that force the project to be a little bit different than what you originally had set out to build. That’s expected. That’s normal. Same thing here. Don’t get hung up on making the blueprint perfect. You just want enough to give you direction to start.
Then you go into step three, Frankendraft . You don’t actually start writing the book until step three. That’s where so many people get hung up. They sit down, and they want to start at the beginning and write all the way through. The way that I approach it is you almost back into the book. You start with just getting all this raw material, organizing all that raw material. Then you have the beginnings of a book. Whenever you sit down to write Frankendraft you already have a good idea of what’s going to go into chapter one. Whenever you start writing, you’re not writing from scratch. You’re drawing from this raw material that you already have defined in the bucket that is chapter one.
You’re going to use that. Don’t copy and paste. Rewrite it. Write it from scratch, or at least rewrite what you have there so that it flows, so that it looks good, and it’s all pieced together. Then you do the same thing for chapter two, then chapter three. Don’t worry about going back and getting chapter one, and realizing, “Oh, you know what? That story I used in chapter one, it really should go here in chapter three.” Don’t worry about going back and getting it out of chapter one. Just keep writing chapter by chapter until you get to the end of the book.
Now, at the end of this draft, it will look awful. Like I said, it will be one of these things where you want to burn it and bury the ashes in the backyard and hope to god that nobody ever finds it. It will not look like the Mona Lisa. It will look like a Frankenstein monster. There’s going to be bolts here. There’s going to be stitches and tape there. There’s going to be an arm that came from a big man. There’s going to be a leg that came from a small woman. Oh god, this is getting a little macabre. The idea is that it will look awful. You’re not trying to paint the Mona Lisa. You’re trying to bring Frankenstein to life, Frankendraft, Frankenstein monster of your first draft. That’s okay.
You’ve got to get through Frankendraft before you can get to step four, which is the edit. In the edit, you’re going to go back through the manuscript. Now, does that story still make sense in chapter three that you used in chapter one? You know what? Maybe you got to the end of the book, and realized that the story actually works as a great way to wrap up the whole book. Now you have to go take it out of chapter three and chapter one. If you would have wasted time taking it out of chapter one to put it in chapter three, and then got to the end of the book, then you would have wasted all that time. That’s why you don’t have to get hung-up in the details.
You just want to get Frankenstein alive. Once Frankenstein’s living, then you can worry about making Frankenstein pretty. Then you can go back and edit and figure out, “Okay, chapter one, you know what? It’s a bit long. Maybe I should take this chunk and put it here in chapter two. Maybe the content is not as, as deep on this point or the subject as I think it should go.”
Ladies and gentlemen, whenever I tell you that editing is so much easier than writing, if you’ve ever done it, you’ll know what I mean. It is a lot easier to work with something that’s there, than to try to create something from scratch.
This process, what this process does is it gives you easy ways to hurry up and get to that editing phase. Once you’re in that editing phase, once you’re in the spot where you’re looking at thousands and thousands of words, there’s a bit of confidence in there. There’s a bit of, “Okay, I can do this. There’s an ending in sight,” versus sitting there looking at a blank screen, thinking, “Oh my God. How am I ever going to get this thing written?”
Step five is the polish. Step five is where I’ll, after I’ve edited it. Whenever I say edited, you’re going to go through … If you are a professional, you are going to go through a good two or three good scrubs, really good edits of your manuscript. If you’re not a professional, you’re probably going to want to go through it three or four or five to make sure that it is a good book. Again, I don’t want to discourage you. I want you to be realistic about how much work it takes. That’s why most people don’t write books. It seems like everybody’s written a book in the business world. The truth is that few people do, out of the total potential population. Few people actually write a book. Whenever you read some of their books, only a fraction of those who have written a book have written a good book, a book worth reading.
Plenty of books out there are just … God bless their authors. God bless their hearts. It’s just awful. It’s just regurgitation of something that they’ve read. They quote Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson and Robert Kiyosaki. Not that there’s anything wrong quoting anybody, quoting especially those people, but they use the same quotes that everybody else has quoted. They’re saying some of the same things. There’s nothing substantially new or different. The book is not worth reading. I’m sorry to say. That is the case for talking about the whole market, from publishing to self-publishing, and everything in between. Most books that are out there today … Well, there’s just a lot of other ways you can use your time.
I want you to know that to have a good book, you’re going to have to go through a couple of rounds of editing. Now, in step five, you give your book to a couple of people, beta readers if you will, who will tell you the truth about your book. One person needs to be someone personal, your spouse, a partner, a best friend, somebody who knows you and somebody who would say, “This book sounds like you. This, this represents you well. This looks good on you. This is a … Speaks well to your credibility and your character.” Then you also need a professional look at it. Colleague, a friend. Excuse me, a colleague, a partner, coworker, who will read the book, and who will say, “No, this isn’t quite how this works in our industry,” or, “This has changed since you read the book,” or, “You say this, but maybe most people wouldn’t quite understand, uh, what you’re getting at.”
You take their feedback. Address it. Well, assess it first. Figure out if you need to put it in there. Then once you’ve done all of that … Now, what I’m about to say sounds self-serving, but ask any person in the business, anybody who has anything to do with the creation and production of a professional book. They will tell you this. You need to have a professional editor look at your manuscript. If you’re not a professional writer yourself, you have to have a professional look at your manuscript just to make sure that it’s up to professional standards. I could go on and on and on about this. If you are in any kind of business, you know that if it’s not you’re area of expertise, whether it’s accounting or marketing or technology management, change management, data analytics, economic theory, if it’s not your area of absolute subject matter expertise, then you need to have a professional vet whatever you’ve put together if you’re going to share this with the world. Why else would you write a book, if you’re just going to stick it in a desk drawer and let no one ever see it?
Reach out to a professional editor in the very least, and let them go over your book and help you see where it needs some help, in the very least. After that, then you have to have somebody proof read it. They’re two very different things between editing andproofreading. At the very end of all, whenever you’ve finished making all the changes to the content, to the arrangement of the words, and everything else you’re going to do, you have to send it to a proofreader. We could talk about the biology of proofreading, and why it’s impossible for you to do it yourself. Just take my word for it in this case. You have to hire a professional proofreader.
Now, that’s the process. Having that process will deal with a lot of your issues of writer’s block. You’re sidestepping a lot of the common hiccups, the common speed bumps that get a lot of writers.
I also want to talk to you a little bit about … Let me give you a couple of tips and tricks. Even in the writing and editing process, doing like I’ve outlined here, you’re still going to run into writer’s block. It’s an inevitable part of the act of creation. Let me give you a mental model about writer’s block. The way that things are supposed to work, the act of creativity, it’s not so much creating something as much as it is unleashing the creativity that you have inside of you. We are creative beings by nature. If you want to write a book, then there is a wellspring of inspiration inside of you that wants to flow.
Writer’s block is not about trying to create something, but it’s about removing those blocks. I think of it is as boulders in a stream or a beaver dam. You have to remove that, so that the creativity can flow. The creativity is there. The inspiration wants to flow, but there is some external obstacle that is sitting in its way. It’s your job to find out what that block is and remove the block, so that that creativity can naturally flow. The most common block is fear. You’re afraid of success. You’re afraid that people are going to make fun of your book. You’re afraid that you don’t have the chops to be a writer or an author. You are afraid of putting yourself out there. You’re afraid of exposing your most intimate thoughts and ideas.
It’s really … Stephen King said that fear is at the heart of all bad writing. I believe that. That’s something that you’re going to have to deal with personally. Just recognize that a lot of your block stems from some kind of fear that you have. The sooner that you can identify it, the sooner that you can somehow mitigate that fear, the more quickly that creativity can flow.
Now let me talk about a couple of very practical approaches for dealing with writer’s block. Your mind is in practice. Your mind is a muscle. If you have ever spent time on a project or writing a report or reading through sales letters, if you’ve had to do anything where you used your mind for so many hours, you get fatigued. You get as worn out as if you would have been digging ditches all day. We get mentally fatigued. Just like if you’ve been digging ditches all day, you have to give your body some time to rest. You need to go home and soak in the bathtub and go get a massage and do whatever you’ve got to do to rest your body up, to bring that muscle back to peak efficiency.
It’s the same thing with using your mind as a creative tool. You have to give yourself time to rest. It’s okay to take a vacation from your book for a couple of days, a couple of weeks, even a couple of months if you’ve been wrestling with it for a while. You need to go restock your wellspring of creativity. If your creativity has petered out, then instead of trying to create something, go take in creativity. Go to a museum. Go watch a classic movie. Go get with your kids or your nieces and nephews, and create a project just for fun. Go color in a coloring book. Go take a walk through nature. Go do something that inspires you, that speaks to your soul. Go listen to some poetry, or go to the opera, the symphony. Do something that refuels that creative well in your soul. You will be amazed that whenever you restock the pond and you go to fish, that there’s actually fish there for you to catch.
Another easy tip is to let your subconscious wrestle with the problem. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an engineering student. One of the first things that they taught us in Engineering 101, Dr Jim Nelson. I’ll never forget it. He said, “Whenever you have an engineering problem, go home, sleep on it, and you will be amazed when you wake up in the morning that you’ve thought of the solution.” It’s because our subconscious is incredibly powerful. Whenever we give our subconscious a problem, and we let our subconscious deal with that problem without pestering it, without distracting it, it can come up with the solution.
Taking this a step further, I read in … The new Psycho-Cybernetics, edited by Dan Kennedy. I forget the author. He was a plastic surgeon. It’s the original self-help book. He said, “Right before you go to sleep, give your mind the problem.” You’re falling asleep. Instruct yourself, “This is the problem that uh I need to deal with.” By making that conscious choice, whenever you fall asleep, your subconscious takes that problem and deals with it. I thought it was kind of hokey. I’ve tried it. I am amazed at how often it works.
I’ll say, “I’m having a problem with this, this client’s chapter.” I’ll give myself the problem. Whenever I wake up in the morning and get my coffee, and do my morning routine. Get the kids ready, get the kids off to school, come back, let the dog out, make more coffee, sit down at my desk, and open their document. I go to type, and all of a sudden I realize that I know the answer. It’s not like I had this epiphany the second I woke up, but I had answered the problem. It was just sitting there waiting for me to access it whenever I sat down at my desk. I encourage you to use it. It works for me. Again, it sounds a little crazy, but do it.
The last thing I’ll tell you is that you need to set yourself a schedule. You need to have a time that you write. William Faulkner said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9:00 sharp.” Tongue in cheek way of saying that he had a routine, and he trained his mind. “Okay, it’s time to, to write, and now we’re going to write.” It didn’t matter if it was good or bad. Didn’t matter if he was inspired really or not, at 9:00, he sat down to write. You’re not a professional writer. You don’t write for a living, as a business author. Maybe you do, but if you’re … You probably don’t. You probably can’t sit down at 9:00 in the morning, but sit down at 7:00 or 6:00. If you’re a night owl and creativity strikes you at night, then sit down at 10:00 and write for thirty minutes.
If you are one of those people who hate morning, and you don’t really wake up until lunch, then after lunch, take thirty, thirty-five minutes and write. Give yourself a routine. Maybe it doesn’t have to be every day. Maybe it can be every other day. The point is that whenever you … Just like with personal training, if you set an appointment, “Okay, at this time of the day, I’m going to go exercise,” then you get into a habit of, “At this time of the day, I go exercise.” Same thing with writing a book. You can’t write only whenever you feel like writing. The less that you write, the less you feel like writing. Same thing with exercise. The less you exercise, the less you feel like exercising.
Get into a habit. Find a place. Was it Anne Lamott that said, “Write at the margins of the day?” In the early morning, before everybody wakes up, in the late evening, after everyone’s gone to bed, those times and spaces whenever there’s almost kind of dead space. Douglas Adams calls Sunday afternoons after 3:00 he calls it the, “Dark tea time of the soul.” When you’ve done everything that you can do that day, there’s really nothing else left to do, but it’s too early to go to bed. It’s just kind of the dark tea time of the soul. Got to love Douglas Adams. Let me give you … All of that to tell you honestly the most important thing that you need to know. We’ve talked about creativity. We’ve talked about the muse. Let me read you a quote form Steven Pressfield and then a quote from Stephen King.
Now, I’m not a fan of Stephen King’s, except for his Dark Tower series, which was amazing. Stephen King has written one of the best books on writing that you’ll ever read. Before Stephen King, let me read you from Steven Pressfield. Steven Pressfield, TheWar of Art says, “This is the other secret that real artists know and want to be writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come.”
Before explaining that, let me just read Stephen King’s quote over here. “My basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow. Stories are found things like fossils in the ground. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.” Ladies and gentlemen, if there is something in you that says you want to write a book, you have to have faith that that book already exists. It has been rolling around in the back corners of your mind, in your subconscious, in your … Wherever you believe that ideas come from. That book exists. You aren’t creating a book so much as you are discovering a book.
I know that we’re talking about business books. Believe me, it sounds a little crazy to talk about this economics textbook being a found thing. The truth is that it’s an act of creation, regardless that the subject matter is facts and insights and experiences. It’s still an act of creation, an act of discovery. That book that you want to write, you need to have faith that it already exists. One you accept that, once you realize that, and you realize there is something in you that wants that book to be written, the problem is not writing the book. The problem is getting everything else out of the way so that the book can freely flow out of you.
Hopefully, that gives you a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of perspective that this isn’t you conquering the mountain. This is just you moving the bolder, so that that wellspring of creativity can freely flow without hindrance. The more that you move things out of the way, the more volume that that spring is going to gush. The more that you get the twists and the turns and the muck at the bottom of the creek bed, the more that you get all of that out of the way, the cleaner, the straighter, the easier that you make the way, the more that that creativity is going to flow. Again, it takes some work. It takes some time. It takes going round and round and round. It is absolutely worth it, regardless of what your subject matter is. I cannot convey to you how incredibly fulfilling it is for an author to hold a manuscript in their hands, knowing that they did it or knowing that they did it.
I had one author, he was a prospect. He wasn’t actually a client. We were talking about the reasons that the wanted to write a book. He said, “You know, honestly, I just … I would like to hold something in my hands that says the last twenty years have been worth it.” Maybe in another episode, we’ll explore the reasons for writing a book. Again, even if you’re writing about something as boring as how to design a commercial parking lot, it is amazingly fulfilling. It’s an amazingly intimate, personal journey to create a book.
My goal for today as to help you realize that writer’s block is normal, but that it is something that you can overcome, whoever you are, whatever you’re doing. If you’re listening to this, that means you want to write a book. If you want to write a book, that means there’s something in you that says your book wants to come out. That being the case, your job is to simply get everything else out of the way, so that your book can be born. It’s not about you making, creating all of this. It’s simply about letting it be, letting it birth if you will.
Let me give you three books that might help you. Then I’ll wrap it up with one of my favorite quotes about writing business books. I’ve mentioned Steven Pressfield. The quote I talked to you about was The War of Art. I mentioned Stephen King. That quote was out of his book On Writing. Then the, one of my favorite, I guess she’s a virtual mentor, Julia Cameron, she wrote The Artist’s Way, and just about anything else by Julia Cameron is worth your while to read. All of that, let me end you with a great quote from consultant Sam Horn. She said, “I have never met an author who was sorry he or she wrote a book. They are only sorry they did not write it sooner.”
I hope today’s episode helps you write your book sooner, so that you can get to that place of incredible fulfillment. Then start using your book for whatever purpose that you have for it, whether it’s for promoting your business, whether it’s for leaving a legacy, whether it’s for helping you get your thoughts together, helping you get clear on what it is that you do and that they’re offer the world. Whatever it is, I encourage you write your book, regardless of how much time and effort and frustration, regardless. It is absolutely worth it.