When you sit down to write a book, you wonder why the sound of hitting your head is so very loud.
The more you sit down, the harder it seems.
And yet, there’s a reason—three actually.
And the three are—tah dah!
Stage 1: Structure is where you design the “design”
Most of us have, at some point, played with Lego. When you attack a kid’s Lego set, you don’t need a plan. Bricks go over bricks, red over blue, green under yellow—and you get applause at the end of the day. Which is fair enough. You’re a kid playing and play should be free-wheeling.
But the moment you get to serious house-building and you pull out your Lego resumé, you’ve got trouble on your hands. And that’s because you need a blue print of sorts. You need a construction plan. Just sitting down and attacking the timber ain’t going to get that house up in a hurry.
Which is approximately how you write a book as well
Most of us have read books—sure, but haven’t been privy to the writing process. And the first part of the process is planning.
You need a framework to hang your information on. And the framework makes things accessible, and idiot-proof. The biggest reason we have DIY (do-it-yourself) disasters, is because someone with a hammer and blowtorch decides to write a book.
Invariably you get a book, but the core of it is shoddy. The material is extremely hard to consume.
But we’re not even jumping over to the reader
Like DIY without a blueprint, it’s just plain hard work.
The reason why so many tasks take so much time is because a plan makes the step-by-step process easier. You know where you’re going right—and more importantly where you’re going off on a tangent. And when we take this tangential trip, we end up spending a lot of time.
Time that could have saved, with a plan; a structure in place.
When you look back at the Renaissance, for instance, you see an incredible volume of creativity
Why were so many people creative at one point in time? The answer lay in the structure of apprenticeship.
The teacher had a plan, the apprentice followed the plan. And then once they were fluent, they went on to create their own marvellous pieces of art. Writing too, is a piece of art. And sure you can throw anything together and hope it sticks. But it’s better to have structure.
However, structure itself won’t work—and this takes us to design.
Stage 2: What’s design?
Design is indeed what it looks like, but it’s more about how it’s consumed. So when you read a book like The Brain Audit, for example, you find yourself sliding through it.
Now on the face of it, it’s a marketing book with some analogy about seven red bags on a conveyor belt. Doesn’t sound too racy, does it? And yet, the moment you start, it’s a slippery slide.
Chapter after chapter gets your attention…
You hardly feel like you’re reading a marketing book. You somehow feel motivated to keep going. And this is because of the design.
It’s designed to look good—yes it is—but it’s also designed to get you slip-sliding.
Do you notice the white spaces? The sub-head design? The cartoons, the summaries, the captions, the stories and analogies—they’re all designed to do a specific thing at a specific time.
Just like when you’re building a house, you get different elements working sequentially, but also all at once
You get the piles put in, then the house structure. Suddenly there’s an army of plumbers, electricians, carpet layers etc. They’re the ones that give your house the ability to function as a living space. They’re the designers.
Sure you can get an interior designer to come in and give your place a swishy look, but that’s only later. The core is all the bits that go together to make the house. And it’s remarkably similar to a book. Without the elements in at the right point—and sometimes all together, it’s hard to get going. And head banging follows.
Which of course brings us to the third part—content
Remarkably the easiest part is content. Because for the most part, we know what to say. You know this to be true, because once your house is built, you kinda know how to fill it up with stuff. Yes, there’s always the chance of clutter, but if you followed the first part—structure, you should be good.
The reason why we struggle, is because we put the entire truckload of information on paper. Clients take one look at it, perhaps a second look and then never finish. And that’s bad for them, but mainly bad for you. Because now you have to go out and find new clients instead of clients coming back over and over again.
But that still leaves the question: What do you put in the content?
The very core of content is not that hard. You have to approach it like a five year old approaches a skunk. They’re not afraid of the skunk. And they have questions. So what does the five year old ask?
-What is that?
-Where did it come from?
-Why are you so scared of it?
-Why are they so smelly?
-But can’t we have one as a pet if it’s not smelly?
These are the kind of questions you ask. It never leaves us, this core curiosity.
If you’re writing a book on pricing, and you are covering “how packaging affects pricing”, you have similar questions.
- What is packaging?
- Why does it matter?
- How do you use packaging to increase prices?
- What are the mistakes you can make with packaging?
- But what if you don’t want to package?
These are the core questions you have to answer. And remarkably, you could write the content without too much trouble, if you just had a friend or customer ask the questions. But where you struggle the most is in the structure and the design. And that’s what you need to work on.
Amateur writers sit down to write.
Professionals first sit down to plan.
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