Season 1 Episode 10: Derek Lewis on Banishing Fear as a Writer

Derek: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to another episode of Behind the Business Book. Since today is going to be the last episode for season one, I thought it would be appropriate to talk to you about the common fears that I’ve found or even experienced myself that keep authors from moving forward with their book. Well, there are plenty of them. I’m want to talk about the most common in the hopes that if you’re experiencing this, that the tips and tricks that we talk about here today can help you overcome those fears, those blocks that keep you from moving forward.

The easiest fear and probably the least important fear that plenty of my authors and people that I coach have is that they’re worried that they’re writing their book for their ego, for vanity’s sake. I tell them that not only is it a normal thing, but it’s a good thing. I believe that a book project should have some ego in it. The reason being that if you are pouring yourself into a creative endeavor and your ego is not in it, then that means that it doesn’t really matter how it turns out.

You’re not truly invested in the project. If on the other hand you have some ego, which is to say that you have some pride in the project, it’s going to be your name on the book. It’s going to be your image, your brand, your reputation that this book either enhances or diminishes. Because of that, you’re going to have a deeper emotional connection. You are going to be more invested in the quality of the book, in the outcome of it. Instead of worrying about whether you’re doing this for the right or wrong reasons, whether you’re doing this for just personal gratification or actually as a professional endeavor, embrace the fact that it can be both.

You can write a book that adds tremendous value to your industry or offers unique insights to your readers, while at the same time creating something that you’re proud of. A book is a uniquely intimate creation. There are few things like a book for us to invest ourselves emotionally, even it’s a business book on career guidance or, I don’t know, on a statistical process control. It doesn’t matter. The fact is that it’s an act of creation and we want to make sure that it’s something that we’re proud to share with the world, so don’t be afraid that there is some ego there. There is. Admit it, acknowledge it and keep in its proper place.

Now the second most common fear that I hear is that authors are afraid that they’re not up to the task, that they don’t know enough to write a book. It’s an understandable fear. Writing a book is daunting. Sitting down to write a blog post or to write a report or to put together some copy for a sales brochure, those have expectations. You know these are the parameters. This is how much you need to write. This is the point. It’s a fairly small project, so it’s easy to see the beginning and the end. You don’t have to do a whole lot of deviation or creation. It’s pretty straightforward, right?

This is the product we’re selling. This is the summary of our findings. This is how to do process A, and then B and C. A book, on other hand, we expect for a book to take us on an emotional journey. Again, even if it’s just a business book, we expect for good business books that we are engrossed in them. That they capture our interest and our attention and ideally our imagination. The best business books, they’re as good as reading a narrative non-fiction or even a novel. Whenever you sit down and you stare at the blank page, it’s pretty overwhelming.

How in the world are you going to go from having nothing to having 200 or 300 pages of what? You’re not even sure what all of that that’s going to be in it. Whenever you start turning to get it out of your head, you just go blank. In fact, that’s probably the most common problem I hear with my authors, is that they say, “Derek, whenever I sit down to write, all these years of experience, these decades that I’ve had of professional insights and expertise and experience, it all goes down the drain. I can’t remember any of it. It’s like we just freeze.” That coupled with just the sheer volume of information that you believe has to go into a book, it paralyzes a lot of people.

Let me give you a couple of tips and tricks to help you mitigate that almost insurmountable challenge. First, don’t worry about how long your book has to be. The book is going to be as long as it needs to be. Don’t worry about that in the beginning. Two, don’t worry about writing a perfect project. Excusing, creating a perfect product from the start. You can’t sit down and just start writing, “Once upon a time” and then just write straight through to the end until you get to, “They lived happily ever after.” Nobody writes a book like that. Writing a book, it’s like learning how to drive a stick shift.

You’re going to lurch forward and slam on the brakes and the car is going to stall out and die a couple of times. You’re going to turn the engine over. You’re going to flood the engine. It takes a while back and forth. There’s this herky–jerky awful experience, so don’t expect that it’s just going to flow out of you smoothly and perfectly, and that the muse is just going to channel straight through you. Get rid of that idea. Just focus on just getting the stuff out of your head and at least on to paper. Whenever I start working with an author, even if I’m ghostwriting the book for them, and especially if I’m coaching them, I tell them that they have to take a notepad. Put in their pocket or their purse. Have a pen handy.

Any time that they are going through the and an idea flips through their head and they think, “Oh, that’d be a good idea for the book” or, “That might be an interesting fact for the book” or, “I remember a story that might go well in the book,” use that notepad to capture that idea. You don’t have to write the whole thing in the notepad, but just write enough so that whenever you get back to your desk and you sit down to write, you can open up your notepad and say, “Let’s see. So the time that Julia fell in the lake. Oh, yeah,” and then you write the time that Julia fell in the lake.

By being ready to capture some of those spontaneous or random ideas that float through your head, you’ll be prepared whenever you sit down at the blank page to actually put something on there instead of just starting from nothing. Write down everything. A fact, an idea, a story, a quote somebody said to you, anything that you think would even remotely go into the book. Scratch it down on your notepad. Now, if you are like a lot of my contemporaries, you’re in love with your gadgets … I use a computer. It’s not like a use an old typewriter and a hand-cranked phone, but I find that having the notepad there, it is a tangible reminder that I’m supposed to be thinking about these things.

I’m supposed to be capturing these ideas. I don’t know about you, here I’ve got the latest iPhone, the latest update and the latest everything, and I can still whip out a notepad and jot down an idea a lot faster than I could unlock my phone, go to Evernote, find the right notepad, make sure that it’s the right note within that notebook, and then actually jot it down. It’s just a lot easier. We could debate that another time. The point being, just capture these things as you’re thinking about them. That is how you get stuff internally, but you should also seek some external catalysts to help get some of these things out. Have conversations with your peers, with your old bosses and your old coworkers, with your old clients and customers. Reach out to some journalists who are in your industry.

Reach out to some thought leaders who are in the same space that you’re in. Reach out to authors of books that you’ve read that one part really got you. Real time conversations, face to face are ideal. Skype or a phone call are the next best thing, but if nothing else, just an email back and forth. Those conversations will often spark something that you hadn’t been thinking about before, something that you weren’t sure that you were comfortable with putting in the book. If it’s appropriate and with their permission, of course, you might also consider recording those conversations so that you can have them transcribed, because it’s difficult in the heat of the moment to take notes quickly or to remember everything that was said, especially if you find a like-minded person. You start really geeking out.

If you listened to the show from a couple of weeks ago, a show DeFilippo and I were geeking out about fonts and type face and interior layout, I could have talked to her for another hour, but that’s because this is something that fascinates both of us. Whenever you find that person, it’s going to be hard to remember everything that you talked about or all the ideas, even if you’re taking notes. If it’s appropriate, just record the conversation and have it transcribed so that you have that record. You don’t have to worry about taking notes and missing something while you’re talking to them.

Another idea, and I put this in my book, The Business Book Bible, you might consider finding someone to mentor, so a younger version of yourself. Someone that’s coming up in the industry, someone who is interested in the topic. Do a trade, so you could mentor them and talk to them about all these things, and they’re going to ask questions like somebody from the outside would because they’re brand new. They don’t know all the things that you know. They’re going to ask you questions that are obvious to you, but to a newcomer it’s new information. Again, in those conversations, record them. Have them transcribed and let that be a wealth of information that you can use whenever you start going to write your book.

Again, the fear we’re talking about here is that you don’t know enough to write a book. If you have done anything in the same vein or area or geography or industry for at least five years, I promise you know enough to write a book on it. If you’ve been doing for 10 or 15 or 20 years, you know enough to probably write two or three books. The fear isn’t that, “What do I know enough to write a book?” Excuse me, the challenge isn’t, “Do I know enough to write a book?” The challenge is, “How do I get all of this out of my head and on to the page?” To address the fear of whether or not you know enough, I promise you do.

I promise you do. In fact, I’ve seen people who have been in an industry or a new technology or a particular profession for only three years, but because of their relative expertise, they knew enough to write a book. Maybe a short book. Maybe a book that would be obvious to veterans who have been in those professions or those technologies for 10 or 15 or 20 years, but those same veterans hadn’t written a book yet, so this person went out and wrote a book. Do you enough to write a book? Yes, I promise. I absolutely promise that you do. Those are not trivial fears. The fear of ego, especially the fear of worrying if you’re up to the task, but the number one fear that authors express at just about every point in the process is they’re worried about the book’s reception.

They worry that whenever they get it down on the page, it doesn’t sound as good as it did in their head. They’re afraid that they’re going to write a book that nobody else wants to read. They’re afraid that people are going to criticize their book or that people are going to tear their book to shreds whenever it comes out. We are afraid of what people are going to think about our book. I understand. I dealt with it whenever I was writing The Business Book Bible. I deal with it whenever I write other resource guides and some of the short how-tos. I worry about it whenever I ghostwrite some chapters and send them to my authors for them to look at. I worry about how people are going to judge, not just my writing style.

I’m pretty confident in my writing ability. What I am afraid of is people judging the validity of my arguments or my points, or dismissing them because I can’t back them up or because I can’t justify them. Here’s what I do, for me, and again from authors. One is, instead of focusing on the negative, instead of focusing on the potential critics and the detractors, I focus on the reader that I’m writing the book for. Whenever I think about that person and I think about for them, the things that I’m writing, it’s like water to a person in the desert. I know because whenever we’ve been on the phone and I’m telling them just some of these little tidbits, they are … I don’t want to say overjoyed. That’s a little over the top.

They’re hungry for the things that I’ve helped them with because this is such a big problem, and so I help them coach with this or with that, or give them a little bit of consulting on the publishing process. For them it’s like gold. Whenever I’m writing, I have that person in my mind. I’m writing to that person. I know that they are going to welcome the words that I put on the page because it’s the information, the advice that they’ve been looking for, that they’ve been needing. No matter what you write, you’re always going to find people who criticize it, who think that it’s not worth something, who think that it isn’t backed up by enough evidence. They’re going to dismiss it. You always find those people.

Sometimes they have a point, but often I find that the loudest critics are those who are the most insecure about their own personal issues. The criticisms that they have about your book are really masking the insecurities, the inadequacies that they have in their own profession. If you write a book, I promise you are going to have people who are jealous that you’ve written a book and they haven’t. I’m not saying to dismiss someone’s suggestions, someone’s criticism of your book, but you want to go find people who are going to do it well-intentioned. Before you release your book, you want to go get some criticism, some feedback that you’re going to use to strengthen your book, but you’re not going to go to people that don’t have your best interests at heart.

You’re going to go to a mentor, a peer, a friend, a colleague, a loved one, your significant other, who can give you honest feedback because they want to see you succeed and they want to make sure that you have all your bases covered whenever the book comes out. Whenever the book goes out there will be people who criticize it. That will happen, but whenever you’re writing the book, just forget about them. Don’t worry about them. Focus on the people who need your book because they’re the ones who are going to be buying it in the first place. The person who is going to criticize your book, they’re probably not going to pick up the book in the first place. If they do, they’re probably not going to read the whole thing.

Even if they did, they’re probably going to say the same thing that they would have said if they would have read a blog post or if they have attended a seminar. That it’s not good enough, it’s insufficient, they could do better, whatever. The fear that we all have of worrying about what other people are going to think about our book, it’s a valid fear, but it’s something that we have to mitigate internally. It’s something that we have to wrestle with in our own mind.

Honestly, and I can tell you this from experience from not only authoring my own works, but also ghostwriting and editing and coaching other writers and business authors, whenever their book comes out, those host of critics and naysayers and detractors that they were prepared for, that they were so worried about, they didn’t materialize. People are so worried about their own lives that they really don’t have enough time to worry about yours. There were a couple of those, but their voices were drowned by the people who were clamoring for their book and for their insight and for their advice, so this fear that we have, don’t let it stop you from sharing your book with the world.

The person who needs your book, the value that your book is going to bring to them far outweighs the criticism of the few people out there who are going to think that your book isn’t good enough. I know it sounds cliché, but focus on the good and ignore the bad. There are a lot of other fears that authors I work with that they face, these internal demons, these inner critics, these inner voices in our head, but ladies and gentlemen, if you are listening to this, then I promise you’ve invested enough energy to get to this point and that energy comes from the fact that there is a book inside of you that needs to get out, so please write your book. Don’t worry about if it’s come out perfect or not.

Don’t worry about how it’s going to be received. Don’t worry about all those things that can be taken care of later. You can’t solve all of those problems until you’ve at least written the rough draft in the first place, so I implore you, I support you, I admonish you, I whatever other synonym you want to throw in here to say, go out there and write your book. Like I said at the beginning of the episode, this is the end of season one. I hope that you’ve got some great value out of listening to these episodes. I hope that it’s helped to educate you on publishing and writing, to inspire you in your own endeavors, and to help you in your quest to become a business author.

If you found value, if all of those things are true for you, I would greatly appreciate you going to iTunes and giving us a good review. I also encourage you to find us on social media. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Drop us a line. Reach out. Let us know how we’ve helped. Let us know what other episodes, what other topics you’d like to see in season two. Until now and then, get to writing. We’ll see you in season two.