People worry a lot about writing a boring-ass book.
And when I say people, I mean me. I worry. About everything, all the time—but specifically, right now, about writing a basic-bitch book.
I also worry about people hating it, but I worry more about them not caring at all. As Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” At least if people hate my book, it moved them to feel something—and isn’t that the end goal of all of our writing?
I want people to feel something.
Preferably not hatred, and definitely not boredom.
So over the years I’ve compiled a little list of deadly sins (imaginative name, I know). Behold, a bunch of things in no particular order for you to avoid if you want to write a book that is not boring.
The 8 Deadly Sins of Nonfiction Book Writing1️⃣ Writing a book you think you should write instead of the book you desperately want to write.
I can’t tell you how many unfinished manuscripts are languishing on my hard drive because I didn’t really want to write them. (Nine. There are nine.)
Which is a good thing really because if we set out to write a whole-ass book we don’t really really want to write, one of two things will happen. You will either not finish it at all and it’ll taunt you from a drawer. Or you will write it, it will not be great, and you won’t be proud of it, and it will taunt you in public.
Does your Big Book Idea fire you up? Do you have to write it? Will you be unable to rest until you set it free?
If so: go forth and write, friend!
If not; if you’re chasing this particular book idea because you think you should, stop right there. Find an idea that sets your butt on fire. Then write.2️⃣ Writing it because a guru has told you it’s a good marketing move and you can tick it off your list.
I mean, writing a nonfiction book can be an amazing marketing move and my books have undoubtedly changed the trajectory of my business; but if that is your sole reason for writing it, are you gonna stick with it? Maybe; maybe not.
Are you really gonna be proud of it at the end? Maybe; maybe not.
Is it going to be interesting and useful? Maybe; maybe not.
Will it become the beating heart of your business? Maybe; maybe not.
But if you write your book because you’re compelled to do so, because your book is more important than just another sales tactic, how incredible would that be?
I’ve done both. I’ve written a book because it was a good marketing move. I’m okay with that book. I did a good enough job. I don’t hate it.
But How The Hell Do You Write A Book—I wrote that because I desperately wanted to. I have a flippin’ mission to help amazing weirdos write wonderful books and my book was part of that. I’m super proud of it and it did indeed become the beating heart of my business.
3️⃣ Creating a fancy glorified business card that “nobody will read anyway.” Please don’t do this!
I actually had someone say to me once, “Bang out a book—it doesn’t matter if it’s any good because probably nobody will read it anyway. It’ll just be a big fat business card that people won’t throw away because nobody throws away books.”
Ugh. Hold my hair while I puke.
Quite apart from the fact that doing so would be horrible for the environment and the planet, it would be gross. It would do potential clients and readers a massive disservice. And I definitely wouldn’t feel like I could ever even acknowledge it.
How about, instead, you create something full of YOU that people are delighted to read and re-read and pass on?4️⃣ Playing it safe. There’s a lot of pressure on all of us—and especially on Black writers and authors of colour, on neurodiverse writers, on LGBTQ+ writers—to conform. To dampen down our voices and personalities. To be acceptable to the gaze of the dominant culture.
And I get it: nobody wants to get shat on by pigeon-trolls.
It’s especially difficult for writers from marginalised groups to find publishers and editors who will support them to tell their stories in their way in their own voices.
But in hiding ourselves away, in muffling our voices and dimming our light, we don’t only damage ourselves. We deprive readers of the opportunity to experience and enjoy who we really are.
We’ve been sold this lie that the dominant audience is straight, white, cis-het, middle class, neurotypical, male or a certain type of white woman and it’s simply not true. Readers are as diverse as writers. And even the straight white cis-het audience doesn’t just want stories from people who look, sound, and think like them (at least, not the part I hang around with).
Bring your whole self to your book, if it’s safe for you to do so. And use a pseudonym if it’s not. You’ll thank yourself later and your book will be far richer for it.5️⃣ Writing to a “tried and tested formula” used by 4,291 other business owners.
A good example of this in microcosm is when you see a social media trend sweep the platforms. A pet hate of mine is pointing at shit on Instagram.
(Look, no shade to you if you’ve done the pointing thing, I get it, it probably worked, if you like it that’s cool, you do you.)
It. Was. Everywhere. And it was booooooooring because it was every-damn-where. Internet trends pass pretty quickly, but books are more permanent, so be careful about the advice you take and the formulas you use.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m a great fan of templates and tools to help us get started writing; I use them myself. And there are story elements you must use, or stories won’t work.
But I don’t write all my books to the same formula because I don’t want them to all look and sound and feel the same. There are plenty of nonfiction books out there, especially business ones, that feel the same and blend into a blur—because they’re all very similar.
Write the book you want to write, and follow a narrative and structure that suits you and your story.
6️⃣ Writing for bestseller status. You have no control over whether your book becomes a bestseller (or even if it sells any copies, really)—so don’t chase this prize.
If you write purely with the goal of getting on a bestseller list, you’ll sight of who you’re really writing for, and you’ll lose the spark of your voice. You’ll run the risk of writing a bland, beige book.
Write with real feeling and maybe you’ll make a bestseller list and win an award. Maybe. And maybe not.
But you will definitely write a book you love, and can be proud of, and that your ideal readers will love.
7️⃣ Being boring and not telling an actual story. Don’t write an academic paper (unless you're writing an academic paper, and then it’s not a book at all).
Readers don’t want an academic paper; they can search journals online for that. Do your research, know your topic, write an incredible detailed and factually accurate book—but tell a story. Weave a narrative. Make us care.
Readers want you. They want your take on a topic, your experiences, your opinions, and your stories.
Take off your stuffy academic overcoat and let the real YOU out.
8️⃣ Forgetting who you’re writing for. It’s not you (or not just you); it’s not some fictional bestseller list, it’s not an ivory-tower publishing god, and it’s not your mum. Probably.
You’re writing for your ideal reader—the person whose life you can genuinely make a difference in by writing this book.
You want to love your book too, of course—but if you write purely for you (which is perfectly valid by the way) you run the risk of writing self-indulgent twaddle that nobody else wants to read. I’m assuming you want to write a book that other people will want to read.
If you write for your reader, which you should be if you want to actually sell books, you’ll always have a destination in mind.
There’s a ton more advice I could share about writing a not-boring nonfiction book, but I reckon this is the most valuable stuff to keep in mind when you’re first getting started.
Except, of course, for this: START.
Because the biggest tragedy of all is having a wonderful idea that never makes it onto paper.
If you’re nodding along to this and thinking you want to write an awesome book and you want support from someone who won’t bodge you into a framework or squash your voice, HURRAH! I am looking for two new private coaching clients to join me on my 6-month Creative Book Coaching Adventure. Find out more here—and if you have questions, contact me here.
Notes in the Margin
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