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How to Write a First Draft that Works

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How to Write a First Draft that Works

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Avoid the pitfalls. Beat writer’s block. Finish the first draft of your nonfiction book.

I’ve created my book’s structure. Now what?

If you’ve followed this blog over the past few months, you’ve learned that although writing a book is hard work, nearly anyone can do it. The process is simple, even if it isn’t easy.

And when it comes time to write your first draft, you’ll virtually eliminate writer’s block if you have completed Module 1 of my process:

Module 1 is your book’s planning phase, and most authors feel ecstatic when they’ve finished it. After all, they want to write the book, not just plan it.

However, when we finally reach Module 2—Write without Ruts—all the work that lies ahead can feel a little daunting! Though you’ve laid out a plan, a BookMAPTM, in and of itself, is not a book.

And all those pages? They won’t write themselves.

But you can do it! Below are solutions to some of the most common problems and self-doubts many writers experience as they tackle their first drafts.

First Draft Problem 1

What if I can’t remember any good stories as I write my nonfiction book?

Author Brian Marcel put off writing his book for years. One of the excuses he gave (in his delightful British accent) was, “My memory’s crap!”

This excuse is relatively common and keeps too many great writers stuck. However, it’s rarely a problem when you write your first draft. Here’s why.

One of the tools you’ll use is BookMAP 2, which is how you create the problem/solution sets that will serve as the basis for your book. Here’s the magic of that process: When you can think of a problem you’ve solved, you will be able to find a story to accompany it.

It works every time.

Also, writing a book is a process that lasts about a year. (I know—that’s a long time!) While you’re working on your book, your book is working on you. Memories will resurface, I promise.

First Draft Problem 2

What if I remember great stories, but I get the details wrong?

Memories are funny things. During traumatic incidents (car crashes, for example), each person involved comes away with different, and sometimes conflicting, stories.

Similarly, many authors fear they’ll misremember a story. They’re afraid they’ll get the details wrong, misattribute a quote, or make up something entirely. They don’t want to look foolish or be unfair, and this is an understandable fear.

But remember: This is your story, not someone else’s. As long as you’re true to your memories, you’ll be okay.

This doesn’t give you a license to make things up or even to embellish. But it does give you the freedom to write your story as you see it.

And remember, this is your first draft. You’re won’t share it with anyone. After you’ve written it, you may want to revisit your memories with those who shared those experiences. Trustworthy people can help round out your recollections.

Write it down the way you remember it. We can fix it later.

First Draft Problem 3

What if I hurt someone’s feelings?

Those who write Overcomer’s Stories (like this one or this one) have often lived through experiences that put other people in a bad light. Several of my writers have experienced heartbreaking trauma at the hands of parents, spouses, or siblings.

For example, one author wrote about a complicated relationship with her brother. Though she checked with him before she released the book and received permission to share the details, there was still a backlash.

When he finally read what she wrote, her brother became angry and her parents were shocked. The author was confused because she had explained it beforehand.

Writing a book isn’t for the faint of heart.

No one wants to be purposefully offensive, and that’s completely understandable. But, once again, this is your story. You have a right to tell it as it happened.

Also, remember that at this point in the process, you’re only writing the first draft. You don’t have to share it with anyone. In Module 3, when it’s time to edit your book, we’ll work together to soften some of the language. You can change names or refer to someone as “my boyfriend,” “my wife,” or “my roommate.”

But writing the truth doesn’t give anyone an acceptable excuse to write a mean-spirited “gotcha” book, one created for revenge. I never work with authors who are out for blood—only those who feel compelled to write to benefit others.

Write your book so you can bring hope and help to those people who need to hear what you’ve experienced. Don’t let anyone taint your story.

First Draft Problem 4

What if I don’t have enough time to write my nonfiction book?

Yes, writing a book is a massive time commitment.

But busy people write books all the time. I’ve personally watched CEOs, entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, and moms of young children write books:

  • Jim Canfield wrote CEO Tools 2.0 while he launched a new business.
  • Beth Standlee completed her book while she managed her coaching company and saw her husband through non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatments.
  • Lindsey Jacobs had to put her book on pause while she went to nursing school—then started writing again after her graduation!

As an author, you’ll need to set aside four to five hours a week to write your book. Though that may seem like a lot of time, you have one hundred sixty-eight hours to choose from each week. If you consistently set aside the proper amount of time, you’ll finish your first draft in sixteen weeks.

You can write a little every day or set aside a large chunk of time to write weekly. However, if you only write “when you feel like it” or “whenever you have the time,” you won’t write your book. That’s why I teach writers how to use a time-blocking method, so they don’t get distracted from their mission.

As long as you’re mentally prepared for it, you can find the time to write your book.

First Draft Problem 5

What if I fail to finish?

I went back to graduate school to get my MFA after my kids were grown. I was excited—all bright and bubbly, but that was at the beginning. To complete my degree, I attended school two years straight without stopping, including summers.

And by the time I reached that second summer, I was sick of school. I thought, “Why did I do this? My life was fine before!”

But all these years later, I don’t remember the suffering. I remember the graduation ceremony. I remember all of the opportunities that the degree afforded me. And I think about how I get to live the life I dreamed about back then.

Now I spend my days helping people tell their stories. It was worth every moment I spent in school.

Writing your book is a bit like going back to school.

When you’re in the middle of your first draft and start to second-guess yourself, think about what will come later. 

Think about the people for whom you’re writing. 

Think about the experiences that will come when you have a published book.

You’ll get through this, and you’ll come out on the other side, grateful you finished.

First Draft Problem 6

How do I stay with my nonfiction book if I get confused or lost during the process?

This is the power of working with a book coach. When authors work with me as The Book Professor®, they get consistent instruction, a sounding board when the going gets tough, and accountability to keep them moving forward.

And for those who participate in a Group Mastermind, I love to watch the members spur each other on! We affirm writers who feel overwhelmed. We stay interested in each other’s stories, even as the author grows tired of his or her own book.

We validate each other, and that counts for a lot.

If you want to write your book (and not quit when things get tough), let’s talk. I want to hear about the book you want to write.


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Jim Canfield on Launching a New Career with a Book

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How an author rewrote a classic business book and changed his life.

The CEO’s CEO

Jim Canfield has spent much of his career helping business owners and entrepreneurs from diverse industries succeed. He’s done this through the facilitation and oversight of peer-to-peer CEO groups.

Through thoughtful engagement and listening, he had the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of the leaders with whom he worked.

But he also learned about successful leadership from personal experience. Having started several businesses of his own, he said the biggest lesson he learned was that “leadership has to be malleable.”

Jim said, “Like a lot of CEOs building a company from scratch, I didn’t realize that, as a company grows, it needs a different type of leader at each stage of growth. I learned leadership had to be malleable. You always have to ask, ‘What type of leader does my organization need to grow?’”

And it was that malleability allowed Jim to grow his own businesses. One of his companies, in particular, was a collaboration with his brother. It proved successful because they leaned into their complementary skills.

Jim said, “I’m great at getting something off the ground. But we found my brother was a better leader when it came time to implement a distributed management system.”

This flexibility of thought permeates everything Jim does. Throughout his career, he’s learned to adapt to new situations, collaborate more effectively, and seize opportunities for himself when the way forward seemed closed.

One opportunity Jim always wanted to seize was to write a book that captured his knowledge. However, he had trouble getting it off the ground. Even though he had collected strong content, he didn’t know what story he wanted to tell to hold the book together.

Just like in his CEO peer groups, though, he found the way forward through the support of another leader. It began when Jim met Nancy Erickson, The Book Professor®, at an event.

Jim said, “What piqued my interest at first was that I could write methodically over a period in a group setting. For me, the creative process was always, ‘I’ll do it when inspiration hits.’ But I appreciate structure, and I believe in the power of a group. Groups can inspire us to do better.”

Jim started work on his book with the Group Coaching Mastermind. But a sudden shift in his priorities made him decide on a different course of action—and a much tighter timeline.

Time for a Change—and a Nonfiction Book

In 2018, while he was in the middle of his book with The Book Professor, Jim put in a bid to purchase the CEO peer-to-peer company he had run since 2006. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

Disappointed, Jim decided it was time to strike out on his own. He said, “I decided my future was better in my own hands than someone else’s.”

Jim wanted to build a new business that communicated the principles he taught CEOs, and he knew the best way to launch that business was through a book of his own. It was time to act quickly and complete a book he could leverage into a speaking career.

And he had a great idea to accelerate the process. His friend, Kraig Kramers, had written a book he loved called CEO Tools. Kraig had since passed away at the age of 72, and one of his fellow peer group members, Aprio, had purchased the intellectual property contained in CEO Tools.

Jim and Aprio CEO, Richard Kopelman, both wanted to perpetuate Kraig’s legacy—and at the same time give the book a fresh take. Kraig had written CEO Tools in a different era. Though the ideas were timeless, someone needed to update the book if it were to remain relevant. Jim wanted to do that.

Additionally, he knew if he wanted to teach Kraig’s principles in a way that would resonate, Jim would need to re-create the book. The new draft would need to reflect his own experiences, voice, and up-to-date research.

After he received permission to adapt the book, Jim went to Nancy in June of 2018 and said, “I need to change directions. I want to recreate CEO Tools, and I have two objectives for it. First, it needs to be done, and done well. Second, I’ll need to publish it in December. Would you take on a project like that?”

Nancy said, “Yes,” and they went to work.

Writing a Business Book in Six Months

With their strict deadline, Nancy helped Jim create a schedule through all stages of her book-writing process to keep the project on target. To do this, the Group Mastermind would no longer work. Jim decided to hire Nancy as his Personal Book Writing Coach.

Jim said, “The initial problem I ran into was just staying on schedule—hitting my marks. I tried two different methods to get on track. At first, I wrote just a little bit each day. But I felt like I would get into a flow with a thought, idea, or direction, then not be able to finish it.”

So, Jim began to schedule one or two eight-hour writing sessions into his week.

He said, “I would tell myself, This is a writing day. I knew it was my only task. I’m a pretty structured person, so when I scheduled time to write, I’d get up and go! And all the time, I was tracking toward the deadline.”

The book itself demanded much of his creativity, and each chapter had to incorporate three separate elements seamlessly.

First, Jim presented Kraig’s concepts in his own voice with new anecdotes. Second, Jim created a story about a fictional CEO named Jack to illustrate the principles of the book vividly.

Finally, Jim wrote case studies from companies that exemplified the concept presented in the chapter. He included three types of companies:

  • Those he knew from personal experience
  • Those he discovered through research
  • Those that came through referrals from other leaders

One of the companies Jim featured in his book came through an introduction from Nancy Erickson. The CEO of that company was author Craig C. Hughes, a client of hers who wrote the book The Self-Driving Company.

After Jim and Nancy had created his BookMAPs®, the two developed a rhythm that allowed them to complete a little more than a chapter a month. During that time, Nancy would offer her feedback, and Jim would incorporate it quickly.

He said, “Nancy gave me three types of feedback. The first kind was what I’d call structural feedback. It’s when she would read something and say, ‘I don’t follow you here—flesh this out a little bit more.’

“The second kind of feedback was where Nancy and I would just have a difference of opinion. For example, I had written a chapter that was very technical but contained a crucial lesson. Nancy thought it took away from the flow of the book. We went back and forth on it, trying to figure out what was best. In the end, we decided to include the chapter, but as an addendum.

“‘The third kind of feedback was just clean-up. It’s funny, even after reading through my book several times, we’d still find little gaps where there was a missing word.”

“It’s what every author hopes for.”

Amazingly, through rigorous work, Jim was able to write and publish his book in just six months. The book itself became the cornerstone of his new speaking career.

Jim said, “My plan all along was to speak to CEO peer groups. I love it. Usually there are twelve to fifteen CEOs in a room. I spend two to three hours telling the story of the book and talking through the concepts. And for the most part, I follow the structure of the book when I give my talks.”

Jim says that, as a speaker, he’s able to sell between one hundred and two hundred books a month. Several times a year, he’ll sell closer to one thousand copies in bulk for larger engagements.

His speaking earned him the award of TEC Canada’s U.S. Speaker of the Year. His book and talks have garnered him endorsements from Ken Blanchard, Jack Canfield, Debbi Fields (Mrs. Fields Bakeries), and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

But, for Jim, the real reward is watching the book help business owners and executives thrive.

“I’m always surprised to see the impact the book has on individual CEOs. The implementation of these concepts really revolutionizes businesses. It’s what every author hopes for.”

Jim attributes his ability to finish the book with speed and excellence to his decision to work with Nancy. He said, “I think she does a great job. Her system balances the right and left brain very well. I appreciate the structure she provides in addition to her new and fresh creative ideas.”

You can buy Jim Canfield’s finished book, CEO Tools 2.0, right here.

Would a book help launch the next chapter of your career?

We’ve all gained a lifetime of knowledge from hard-won experiences. Often, that knowledge represents how we found success in an area of life. People need that knowledge! And you can leverage it to help move your career forward.

But even the most disciplined people need help to stay on track and avoid the pitfalls that lie along the path to a published book.

As The Book Professor®, Nancy Erickson guides people to complete their books. Then, she helps authors get their books to market so other people can benefit from the knowledge they hold.

If that’s what you need to move your career to the next step, contact Nancy here.


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The No-Excuses Guide to Writing a Business Book

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Establish yourself as an expert. Increase credibility. Attract a following.

Will this help you move your career forward?


Entrepreneur Brian Marcel has had a wildly successful career. As one of the founders of the barcode industry, his work helped shaped the world we live in today.

He is, by any measure, an expert in his field.

Others in his industry recognized his expertise, and for years they asked him to write a book about it. They saw others pass away, and their knowledge died with them. They hoped Brian would capture his experiences and the lessons he learned in a book.

But Brian thought no one would be interested by his work in a tiny niche! He failed to grasp how broad his knowledge was, how compelling his story could be, and how much the general public could gain from him.

This very common self-perception has stopped way too many talented businesspeople from sharing their knowledge in book form. Maybe it’s stopped you. Perhaps you’ve thought, “No one will be interested in what I have to say.”

As someone who’s helped dozens of businesspeople write inspiring and noteworthy books, here are some of the common roadblocks I’ve helped them overcome.

Can you relate to any of these?

Roadblock #1: I feel like my knowledge appeals to too narrow an audience.

For Brian, having grown up in a niche industry, he thought only a handful of people would be interested in what he had to say. But authors from niche industries write great books all the time! The question is this: How do you maximize your book’s potential?

First, know that being “specific” is good. It helps you speak directly to those who are most interested in what you have to say.

Plus, specificity is helpful for marketing. A clearly defined audience translates into a clearly defined marketing plan. You’ll be able to find those you want to reach through industry publications, podcasts, radio shows, blogs, and events.

However, general principles will nearly always emerge from your writing. It’s sometimes hard for authors to see the broader application of their experience.

Authors need an outside perspective. When working on your book, you need to find someone with a talent for seeing the bigger picture. That’s where I come in. Read on to discover how that works.

Roadblock #2: I don’t have any principles to share, just a story to tell.

If you’ve had any success, your story will reveal general principles that could apply far beyond your life and experience.

Our partners also have vast experience in selling drugs through the Internet, now they have big discounts on generic Cialis.

The way authors discover these principles is by breaking their story into problem/solution sets using BookMAP™ 2. Each chapter title will reveal a problem the author solved. Once identified, the solutions and the stories will flow from there.

Brian thought his knowledge was too industry-specific, but here are some of his chapter titles that apply to every business owner:

  • Begin with a Plan
  • Hire the Best People
  • Focus on Process
  • Look for New Markets
  • How to Survive in the Market without Sales

As you can see, these are universal principles that emerged as Brian worked on the structure for his book. Anyone in business can relate!

That’s why it’s vital to spend time on your book’s structure first. Don’t cut corners. If you skip ahead, you’ll confuse yourself and, eventually, your readers.

Roadblock #3: I know what principles work, but I don’t have an exciting story.

A lot of business book authors tell me they can’t think of any good stories. But I’ve found this: If you’ve experienced a problem, then discovered the solution, there’s a story you can tell.

Here’s the formula for a great story:

  • What it used to be like
  • What happened
  • What it’s like now

During the second module of the book writing course, “Write without Ruts,” I teach my authors how to write a great story. I show them how to write in scenes and invoke sensory language so readers can truly experience what the writer experienced. It’s something anyone can learn how to do.

When we move to the third module of our book writing process, “Polish and Perfect”, magic happens. So many of the writers I work with are shocked at how well they can write!

(For more inspiration, read this story about self-proclaimed non-writer Terry Lammers.)

Roadblock #4: What if I give away too much information, and no one wants to hire me?

You may want to write a business book because you’re a consultant with great information to share. You realize you need a book for credibility. Still, you fear if you lay out your knowledge, you’ll devalue your services as a consultant.

I tested this one out for you. I wrote a book called Stop Stalling and Start Writing: Kick the Excuses and Jumpstart Your Nonfiction Book. I put my whole process in that book. I gave everything away.

But I’ve seen that giving my knowledge away doesn’t make me unnecessary. It establishes me as the expert I am. Not only that, but my book has also served as:

  • A sales tool
  • Something people can buy when they can’t afford my services
  • Fodder for my seminars, keynote speeches, and online courses
  • Material for articles, interviews, and blog posts

Listen—there’s no need to have an attitude of scarcity when it comes to your knowledge. There’s enough for everyone. Share, and it will come back to you.

Roadblock #5: What if my ideas are too “vanilla?”

I’ve worked with writers who have authored books on very similar topics. In fact, three of my clients are podiatrists, and it’s hard to believe three podiatrists have something wildly different to say.

I’m here to report that each of those books is uniquely fascinating.

The difference in your book is you. It’s your experiences, your language, and what you’ve gleaned from others that will make your book enjoyable. But that’s not all.

A well-defined target audience will help you create interest. Imagine you’re a financial planner. Most financial planners have similar knowledge, so you spend time thinking about what group of people other financial planners haven’t reached. You think, What if I write my book for resident physicians?

These are people who haven’t earned much money—at least, not yet. They don’t know what you know, and no one has spoken directly to their needs or situation.

Maybe you could help them.

Because, in just a few years, those residents will have large incomes that will need expert management. If your book reached them when they had nothing, maybe they’ll call when they have so much money, they don’t know what to do with it!

Don’t worry about uniqueness. Your book’s individuality will reveal itself as you engage in the process.

You can write a great business book.

Businesspeople, experts, entrepreneurs: You know more than you think. You have something to say, even if you don’t feel like it. If you’ve made a life for yourself, you have something to teach others.

A book can do a lot for you. It can:

  1. Establish you as an expert
  2. Increase your credibility
  3. Help you attract a following

But it’s rare to find a person who can do all of this without some help. If you want to work on and finish a business book that can stand shoulder to shoulder with anything on the market, we should talk.


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Business Book Author Brian Marcel: Niche Experience, Broad Appeal

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With a career’s-worth of experience, this barcode industry entrepreneur created a marketable nonfiction book with The Book Professor®.

Finding Opportunity in a New Technology

Brian Marcel felt starved for inspiration.

It was the mid-1970s, and he worked for the London-based paper manufacturer Reed International. His small division represented a Portuguese paper mill, and he needed a change. Marcel said (in his charming British accent), “It was really boring and very limited, so I said to my boss, ‘Can’t we do something else?’”

Marcel’s boss agreed to let him explore any opportunity. He started by visiting the commercial departments of London’s European embassies. Initially, Marcel hoped to find more papermills Reed could represent in the UK. Though he found none, one German-based business caught his attention.

They specialized in barcode technology, a relatively new industry, and Marcel realized it would fit hand-in-glove with Reed’s clientele. With little more than a phone call, Marcel brought Reed into the barcode business, and it changed his life.

After Reed gained a fourteen percent market share, an American competitor recruited Marcel. Unfortunately, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a year later. Marcel saw it as an opportunity.

He said, “I took all my customers—and the company car—and set up business. I had always wanted to start my own company because my dad was an entrepreneur. It was a no-brainer, really, but it took something like that to make me do it.”

That was in 1982. By 1987 Marcel was looking for new markets to expand and figured the wall might come down in Berlin, opening the Soviet Bloc to the West.

The corporation he started then, IBCS Group, has become the top mobility integrator in Central and Eastern Europe. Now, as one of the few people with a front-row seat to the entire history of this industry, his colleagues began to push him into facing another challenge.

Finding an Audience for a Nonfiction Business Book

Marcel is part of a trade association called AIDC 100—one hundred colleagues who work in automatic identification and data capture (AIDC). There are few people left to tell the history of their business, so several association members asked if he would write a memoir.

Marcel said, “I never really wanted to write a book because I thought it would be too much hassle.” Then, he said, “I thought I couldn’t do it because my memory’s crap. And I’ll never remember everything—certainly not enough that’s of interest to the public.”

He mentioned his struggle in a mastermind group that included The Book Professor®, Nancy Erickson. She told him about her Group Mastermind program.

Marcel explored Erickson’s website, which intrigued him. He said, “She had a process. I looked at her three modules and I thought, Oh, that looks interesting. And there were weekly calls, which meant I could be held to a deadline. I need that to happen if I’m going to do a good job of anything.”

In the first classes, Erickson had asked the group to identify their target market. Marcel said he was writing it for the people in his industry, as well as his family. When he totaled up the number of readers who he thought would be interested, he only could imagine about a hundred.

Marcel quoted Erickson as saying, “Well, that’s not very ambitious. Would you like to sell more copies than that?”

Marcel responded, “Yes, I’d like to sell more, but who the hell’s going to be interested?”

But Erickson changed his mind, helping him see a much larger opportunity for a business book that would speak to anyone who wanted to start a thriving business.

Leaning into The Book Professor’s Framework

Marcel had plenty of wisdom to share. He could teach people how to start a business, how to work with different cultures, and how to connect an untapped market with a new technology. Besides, he had already been working with mentees in other industries, teaching the principals of business through his life experience.

Once he was working through Erickson’s first module—”From Concept to Concrete Plan”—he felt like ideas started to flow. The process included questions to answer, and he found the direction useful. He created the two BookMAPs® to establish the structure for the book.

However, when he reached Module Two—Write Without Ruts—Marcel was afraid his memory would fail him. When he went to work, though, he found the BookMAPs kept him going, saying, “They were able to suck memories out of me.”

He continued, “Having the weekly phone call was useful as well because it forced me to write. I had a process, a framework, and a deadline. Those were the three key things.”

The book he found himself writing was unique both to his industry and to the business book cannon. Accessible for any entrepreneur, each chapter consists of problems he faced personally, mistakes he made along the way, and the solutions he discovered.

The finished book can connect with, as well as instruct, entrepreneurs from any industry.

New Opportunities through a Nonfiction Book

Marcel said, “The new book has provided some useful opportunities for my business. I find if you have a book, you have more credibility.”

The way Erickson helped him structure the book gave it a built-in marketing plan. He released some of the book’s takeaways through social media, wrote articles based on chapters, and gave several interviews for a variety of podcasts, radio shows, and magazines.

The media attention became a valuable part of his LinkedIn profile, and he said the book is a “good tool to move things forward.” The final chapter, “Spot the Next Trend,” hints at some of the new developments and opportunities he sees, including subscription-based models and blockchain technology.

Entrepreneurs who need a practical guide to business ownership can find Brian Marcel’s Raise the Bar, Change the Game: A Success Primer for Budding Entrepreneurs Who Want to Change the World, on Amazon.

A Success Strategy for Nonfiction Authors

The most productive people in the world know that success isn’t something you can improvise. It takes hard work, accountability, and repeatable disciplines that can become part of your daily life.

At TheBookProfessor.com, we give authors:

  1. A proven process that has worked for hundreds of others across a variety of nonfiction genres
  2. A framework with proprietary tools to lead authors from initial concept to published book
  3. Weekly check-ins and deadlines to keep you on track

If this is what you need to move your career forward, create new opportunities, and get your knowledge to those who need it most, we can help.

Send us a message and tell us about your book right here.


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The Book Professor’s® Complete Guide to Writing Your Nonfiction Book

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A lot of us suddenly have a surprising amount of free time on our hands. If you want to start your manuscript today, here’s my process, start to finish. 

It’s Time to Stop Stalling 

[Note to readers: We have a special offer running through March 31, 2020. Check out the discount at the end of this blog post].

If you’re like most aspiring writers, you’ve probably considered writing a book for some time now. Like someone who stands at the edge of a pool, waiting for the perfect moment to dive in, you might only need a little encouragement. A little push. 

Well, this is it. Especially if you’re stuck at home right now due to COVID-19, I want to encourage you. Use these difficult days to fulfill a dream or propel your career forward. Write your book. 

Do you still need someone to convince you? Do you think, “Who am I to write a book?” Or, “It’s way too hard?” 

Consider the story behind some of the books my authors produced. 

For example, Executive Coach Mike Kitko had several false starts before he engaged the process I’m about to share. But after he followed it from beginning to end, he released an excellent book he can sell at every one of his speaking gigs. (It even helped him create two revenue-producing courses!) 

Beth Standlee is a gifted writer and speaker, but she struggled to organize her “creative chaos” into a book. This process gave her the tools to do so. With this structure in place, she was able to publish her book even while she navigated one of the most challenging periods in her personal life. 

Terry Lammers is a businessman who knows the secrets of buying and selling companies. But he never considered himself a writer. This process helped him produce the book, You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know. It found a place on the Forbes list, Best Books for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. 

And we haven’t even talked about the Overcomers! Writers like Rich Daniels, Lindsey Jacobs, and Nancy Nelson learned to tell complex, rich stories that grew out of heartbreaking times. It took courage to say what they had to say, but in the end, the process they followed helped them release beautiful books that offer hope and help to others. 

You can do it, too. This article will get you started. But you can get even more complete detail from my book, Stop Stalling and Start Writing. Download a copy (or order the paper version) here. 

Ready? Get set. 

Write! 

1. Purpose Statement

If you want to complete your book as soon as possible, you may be tempted to start at chapter one. But a little pre-writing goes a long way. It keeps you from writing three or four chapters only to discover you’ve “lost the plot. 

Start with a purpose statement, which allows you to make choices that will drive your book forward. It follows this formula: 

The purpose of this book is to action for audience to result. 

Let’s break that down. 

Action 

First, what do you want your book to do for people? The answer to this question is vital because people don’t buy books; they buy solutions  

Audience 

Then, define your audience. It’s okay to be specific. The better you define your audience now, the more targeted your writing can be. It will also give you a way to market your book when you’ve completed it. 

Result 

Finally, what will your audience take away from this book? That’s the “result.” It’s the change your audience will experience when they’ve read it. 

This strategy works for any nonfiction book. All of my writers have focused their writing through this formula.  

But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean you can rush through it. Take some time. Freewriting will get you a long way. (Try writing with your non-dominant hand as well.) 

If you want to learn more and see some examples of purpose statements for a wide range of nonfiction books, read this article. 

ASSIGNMENT: Write your purpose statement. 

2. BookMAPs

We’ve talked about BookMAPs extensively on the blog, and I encourage you to read this article in addition to the one you’re reading now. This part of the process gives you the structure you need to write quickly and effectively, virtually eliminating writer’s block.  

You’ll start with BookMAP 1, your personal story. Here’s the formula: 

  • What it used to be like 
  • What happened 
  • What it’s like now 

If you’re writing a memoir, you’ll base your entire book around these three points. For most writers, however, BookMAP 1 will inform your introduction and give you many of the anecdotes you’ll need to fill out the rest of your book. 

As you consider each of these three points, spend time writing down what life was like during each of these three periods: 

  • Personally 
  • Professionally 
  • Physically 
  • Spiritually 
  • Financially 
  • Mentally 
  • Relationally 

Write all of this out and collect it in a single document. 

ASSIGNMENT: Create BookMAP 1. 

Next, you’ll work on BookMAP 2, which are problem/solution sets. Your book is about how you solved one big problem. Still, you’ll break that larger problem down into about several individual problems that each had a solution you discovered. 

Each of those solutions has a list of features, which are the attributes and aspects your solution provides. Second, each of those features has a list of benefits. These benefits are “what you got out of that solution.” 

For most business books and how-to books, these problem/solution sets will define your chapters. Collect your problems, solutions, features, and benefits into one document.  

ASSIGNMENT: Create BookMAP 2. 

3. Write without Ruts

With your BookMAPs in place, you know what you’re going to write. Now you just have to do it. 

I recommend writers set aside time to write their book. Whether you can work every day or once a week, make sure you reserve this time for yourself. Then, do whatever you have to do to concentrate and write. 

Also, don’t double back and fix what you’ve written. It’s too early to determine what you’re going to keep and what you’re going to throw it. All of that is just a distraction. This first draft will not be perfect, but it does have to be complete. 

Write the book and be prepared to fix it later. 

ASSIGNMENT: Write your first draft, one chapter at a time, from beginning to end. 

4. Rewrite: Polish and Perfect

Now, go back through your book and see what you need to do to make every line work and every word sing. It takes some time, so don’t rush the process. But as you edit, ask yourself: 

  • Does this address my audience? 
  • Does this help my audience take action that will produce their desired result? 

If it doesn’t, no matter how much you love it, cut it. Your first draft was for you. You had to get it all on paper. But this draft if for your audience. This draft will make a difference in people’s lives. 

Also, this is when you’ll need to engage a professional book editor. No matter how proper your grammar is, your book will need a second set of eyes. And if you’re not a very strong writer, editors can help you keep your voice but fix your mistakes. 

ASSIGNMENT: Go back to the beginning and work through your book line by line. 

Is that really all there is to it? 

Yes and no. If you read straight through this post, it probably took you about five minutes. And it only takes a handful of hours to read my book on this subject. 

But writing a book takes a long time. I estimate forty-eight weeks 

And there’s more to a book than just writing it. At some point, it won’t make sense to work through this process all alone. I do a lot of big-picture editing for writers, helping them when they get lost and don’t know what’s next. When we finish, I bring in another editor to go through the book line by line and make sure we haven’t missed anything. 

The cover and layout are essential to the reader’s experience, too. There’s a tangible difference between a professionallydesigned book and a printed-out Word document. When you have someone do it correctly and beautifully, it will earn you an extra degree of credibility. 

But nearly anyone who has lived through a problem (and figured out how to solve it) can write a book. If you’re not ready to work through the process with me, that’s okay. Use this opportunity to get started. 

But if you’re ready to go allin, get someone who can walk you through this process, and work with a coach who can cheer you on, I’d love to work with you. Contact me here. 

A Special Discount through March 31, 2020

A lot of you have followed me for some time now, waiting for the perfect opportunity to write your book. Maybe a finished book means a leap ahead in your career. Maybe it means fulfilling a lifelong dream.

But if this current landscape of uncertainty has caused you to put your plans on hold, I want to make things easier for you.

I’ve temporarily adjusted the price and the terms of our Group Coaching Mastermind:

  • I’ve reduced the price by 15%—from $350 a month to $297.50 a month
  • After the initial payment of $297.50, I’ll delay your payments for three months

That means you wouldn’t make another payment until July! The course begins on April 2, so this offer will expire on March 31.

If this is a dream you were going to have to defer yet again, I hope this helps. You can take advantage of this if you go to our registration page here and use the coupon code WRITETIME.


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A life coach’s memoir finds hope amid tragedy

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Nancy Jo Nelson’s “little book about big stuff” confronts the mystery around grief for a suicide victim with help from Nancy Erickson, The Book Professor®.  

Trigger warning: This post deals with the subject of suicide. 

Walking through the Unknown 

Nancy Jo Nelson knew her marriage was over. 

She had lived with her controlling, formerly alcoholic husband for seventeen years. They even had two children together. But no matter what she tried, it was clear nothing would save their relationship. Not therapy. Not hard work. Not even prayer.  

Nelson said, “I grew up with the belief that I should be the anchor in the relationshipthe problem solver, the savior. But I cannot make anybody do, think, or feel what they don’t want to. It’s not my job.” 

She asked her husband, Bob, for a divorce in July 2009. On October 7 of the same year, and without warning, he disappeared. No one at work, home, or in his extended family knew where he was. 

For Nelson and her family, daily life took on a surreal quality as the police searched for her husband. She was interrogated, asked to take a lie detector test, and even stood aside as cadaver dogs searched her property. 

Five months to the day after his disappearance, Nelson and her family learned the awful truth. Bob had committed suicide in the woods just a mile from their home. As she and her family grieved, they had to carry on with their lives as well.  

She said, “I learned that all I could do was be present when my family needed to talk through things. I couldn’t put a Band-Aid on this—it was out of my power and control. But I was beginning to understand that everything is out of my control. Everything, that is, except for how I choose to show up in any given situation.” 

Though she would one day write a memoir about the period that surrounded Bob’s disappearance and suicide, she had to heal first. That healing process changed her profoundly, helping her find a strength she never knew she had. 

Nancy Nelson’s “Overcomer’s Story” 

Nelson worked hard to help her kids continue forward as she and her family moved through grief. “I had to go to work, send my kids to school, and be present for them when they needed me.”  

She also realized that, in Bob’s absence, she had to provide for herself and her children financially. She decided to go back to school and finish a degree in Applied Behavioral Sciences, one that she had abandoned thirty years earlier. Then, Nelson continued to develop professionally, studying to become a certified life coach. 

At a professional event, Nelson shared the story about her husband’s suicide with another life coach. That person said, “This is a book. You’ve got to talk to my friend Nancy Erickson. She’ll help you.” 

It was just the encouragement she needed. Nelson knew she had a unique story, what a friend jokingly called a “movie of the week.But there was more to it than that 

In her hometown of Barrington, Illinois, several teenagers had recently stepped in front of trains to end their lives. She knew their loved ones needed someone who could speak into that particular kind of heartbreak. 

Nelson said, “Suicide is a different type of death. The grieving process is, in many ways, unique. My daughter said, ‘No one talks to me about the good memories they had about dad. They focus more on how things ended rather than how he lived.” 

Further, she wanted to show how those left behind could build their “life after.” She hoped to encourage the heartbroken that beautiful things can spring from tragedy as well. 

But when it came writing, Nelson wasn’t sure how to create something as long and complicated as a book. She said, “I know how much I benefit from other people’s experience and knowledge. I can say, ‘I don’t know. I’m going to the expert that does know.’” That’s when she called Nancy Erickson, The Book Professor®. 

Writing a Nonfiction Book that Makes a Difference 

Nelson chose to write her book through the Group Mastermind program, which still allowed her a significant amount of one-on-one time with Erickson. After she wrote her purpose statement, defined her audience, and created her BookMAPs, Nelson began her first draft. 

She said, “The part that surprised me (and I guess it shouldn’t have) was that you do this on your own. Nobody writes your book for you. Nancy has great tools, but the bottom line was that I had to do the writing. 

She continued, “It was very cathartic. Nancy [Erickson] said at the beginning of the process, ‘The book writes you as you’re writing the book.’ And I dismissed it as nothing more than a nice thought. But I discovered it’s true. It’s really, honestly, true.” 

Nelson found the most challenging part of the process came after she completed her first draft. The manuscript felt overly long, and she wanted to trim it to something that would make a profound impact on her readers. 

She worked to make sure every line in the book supported her mission statement and spoke to her audience. Nelson found one tool especially helpful. 

Erickson encouraged Nelson to search her book for every instance of the words I, me, or my. Nelson took the advice. If she deemed the passage wouldn’t connect with her audience, she cut it. In the end, her final draft was about a third as long as her first draft. 

Still, she didn’t think the book felt right. Though she had a lot of compelling material, she believed it lacked flow, like she was trying to force it into its final form. 

She says she’ll never forget the moment the book revealed itself to her. She was at a coffee shop with all the chapter headings of her book on separate pieces of paper. As she laid them out on a table, she let go of her preconceived notions for the book.  

Suddenly, she saw how all the pieces fit together. 

Nelson said, “One of the big things Nancy always said was that you almost have to take your hands off the wheel and let it come, let it flow. That’s how it worked for me. I tried to control it. But in the end, I had the overwhelming feeling that the book wrote itself. 

Balancing Control and Trust 

The whole experience was cathartic for Nelson. She said, “It’s about taking your power back. You can’t hand it over to anyone else.” 

As she’s shared her book, she’s watched its message resonate with readers. One friend tapped her heart and said, “I took all the hurt and put it right here.” Nelson’s book helped her friend release that pain and start to find healing. 

Additionally, the memoir has opened doors for Nelson to speak to a variety of groups about suicide and resiliency. A dance company even has plans to perform a piece on the subject, asking Nelson to consult. 

Through it all, Nelson has become more aware of synchronicity in her life. She said, One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is this: You do what you need to do. But trust that in the background, beyond what you can see, things are percolating.” 

About her partnership with Nancy Erickson, Nelson said, “The friendship—working with Nancy—was absolutely a wonderful, beautiful experience. She said, ‘Here are these tools. You pick what works for you.’ And that was very freeing to me.’” 

You can buy Nancy Nelson’s compelling memoir, Lessons from the Ledge: A Little Book about Big Stuff, through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  

Do you have a story you need to tell? 

If you want to write a memoir (or what we call an Overcomer’s Story), we believe you have lived an experience the world needs to hear 

Unfortunately, many people who want to tell their story never finish their book. They may have notes, drafts, blog posts, and other pieces of a memoir, but they get stuck somewhere in the process. 

At TheBookProfessor.com, we help authors put all of those pieces together. Nancy Erickson enables writers to see what they have, focus it into a finished book, and release something that can stand shoulder to shoulder with anything else in the marketplace. 

We have a process to follow, a team that works with you, and a variety of tools and tricks to get you across the finish line.  

You do the writing. We help you finish. 

If you’re ready to write your book, contact Nancy Erickson here. 


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The Key Ingredients of an Effective Memoir

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Are you an Overcomer?

When author Lindsey Jacobs came to work with me, she had an incredible story. She went through a divorce but found her way, bit by bit, as she trained for a triathlon. That triathlon became a metaphor for the change she experienced as a person.

The book she wrote, Stronger: From Trials to Triumph to Triathlete, comes out of that particular slice of her life. Her story, along with her life change, culminates with the moment when she crosses the finish line.

Like many of the authors I work with as The Book Professor®, she had to face off with several problems. Over time, she found solutions to each of them. She could have communicated what she learned through a variety of genres:

  • A self-help book
  • A business book
  • A how-to book

However, Lindsey decided to write a memoir, or what I call an Overcomer’s Story. In an Overcomer’s Story, the author’s life has a strong and direct “point” to it. That point is the main takeaway of the book.

Here are the key elements to a memoir, and what you need to know to write one.

Memoir Ingredient 1: Honesty

I love memoirs. Lucy Greeley’s Autobiography of a Face and Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle are two of my favorites. Throughout each of these books, the author gives us a snapshot of a real and messy life told with absolute honesty.

In a memoir, the reader gets on the roller coaster with the writer.

This is not typically true of an autobiography. Autobiographies are usually a textbook-like, long (and tedious) highlight reel: “I did this, then I did this, and then I did this.”

I rarely enjoy those kinds of books. They create psychological distance between the writer and the reader. The author tells his or her story in a way that ends, “And we all lived happily ever after.”

By contrast, though a memoir can end in triumph, it doesn’t end with a fairy tale resolution. It ends like this: “And here I go on, still trudging this road. But I’m here.” Readers can relate to that kind of conclusion.

Memoir Ingredient 2: Hope & Help

As The Book Professor®, I only work with authors who want to offer hope and help to people. To make sure the final result will accomplish this goal, we always do two things.

  1. Create a purpose statement
  2. Define the audience

We talk more about these two critical parts of the process in this article. Those two “boundary lines” help inform every word the author writes from that point on.

When we build these two components, the memoir becomes more than pure entertainment. As the author tells his or her Overcomer’s Story in an emotionally descriptive way, the audience receives a sense of hope: “If the author made it through that, maybe I’ll be okay, too.”

Then, the “help” comes in how the person did it. These books still contain problems and solutions, but the author shows more than they tell.

The skinned knees and bruised elbows represent the problems the author faced. But he or she will then say, “I found this, and it really helped.” With a well-defined audience and purpose statement, the author can be certain that the book’s readers have faced similar problems.

Memoir Ingredient 3: Pivotal Moments

When I help authors structure their book, I use a tool I developed called BookMAPs™ (read more here). There are two of them, and each serves a vital role for the author. BookMAP 2 looks at the problem/solution sets the author discovered.

However, memoirs use BookMAP 1 to define their overall structure:

  • What it used to be like
  • What happened
  • What it’s like now

It’s the second bullet point, “what happened,” that makes up most of the memoir. It’s a series of pivotal moments where everything shifts, and through those shifts, the author’s life completely changes.

Sometimes, these pivotal moments can be “Aha!” moments, when the author decides, “I’m going to do things differently.” But most of the time, those pivotal moments come to us as a surprise. They can be happy surprises: You meet the love of your life, have a child, or fall into a career that’s perfect for you.

However, pivotal moments often come as a result of unwelcome surprises: A death, divorce, or job loss.

But as the author describes these pivotal moments, he or she can’t just recount the facts. The reader needs to experience all of what the writer has to offer.

Memoir Ingredient 4: Go Deep

Through BookMAP 2, authors will look at each of these pivotal moments through a variety of lenses. They’ll ask themselves what their life was like:

  • Professionally
  • Financially
  • Relationally
  • Physically
  • Personally
  • Spiritually
  • Mentally

For each of these, we take a deep dive into the “before,” the “during,” and the “after.” There will likely be more than one element that the writer has yet to consider.

For example, a pivotal moment might cause someone to learn about his or her relationship: “I don’t want to be around people who make me feel bad anymore.”

Or, it might be a financial change: “I tethered myself to this person because of the money, but I decided to put myself first. I may live hand-to-mouth for awhile, but that’s better.”

As the author writes, we look for ways to pull out these moments through sensory language. We want readers to feel what the author felt at the time. There, as the readers viscerally experience the author’s story, they experience more of the hope and help so crucial to the audience the author has defined.

Are you an overcomer?

Of all the genres of nonfiction books, memoirs can be the most difficult to write. The experience can be emotionally draining, and a lot of people think they can just farm the work out to a ghostwriter.

But here’s the thing. Ghostwritten memoirs rarely make a personal connection! The person who lived the story has to write the story for it to make an impact.

If you want to write a memoir, you don’t have to do it by yourself. At The Book Professor®, we don’t write your book for you. We guide you through a tried-and-true process. We become your sounding board. And we help you finish and publish a book that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything else on the market.

If you’re an Overcomer, I’d love to help you write your book. Let’s get your story out there!


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How One Triathlete Turned Her Blog into a Memoir

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Lindsey Jacobs found her voice as an author while going through one significant life change after another. She transformed her story into a nonfiction book with a little help from The Book Professor®.

It started with a lifelong dream

Lindsey Jacobs had always wanted to write a book. As a kid, she took creative writing courses and crafted poetry. Though she harbored a desire to have a finished novel one day, she said, “I would never have expected my first book to be my personal story.”

That story was fraught with difficulty. Lindsey went through a painful divorce. She struggled to learn how to become a single mom and deal with the fallout from her marriage. In talks with a counselor, she discovered her “normal” wasn’t normal at all. She had been worn down and completely stripped of her sense of self—traumatized by years of abuse.

As therapy helped her heal, she sought balance in her day-to-day life. Lindsey had always been a runner and, at the time, worked at a Fleet Feet franchise. A co-worker encouraged her to train for a triathlon, something Lindsey had never considered.

Inspired by her friend’s words, she decided to sign up for an IRONMAN® triathlon. The training was tough. She still enjoyed running but found biking tedious and repetitive. Worse, she was a weak swimmer, terrified of water.

But as she tackled her tangible fear of swimming, she found she could also tackle some of her less tangible fears—the anxieties that came with her new life.

During a training session one day, Lindsey had an idea for a short essay. Though she said it started as “stream-of-conscious ramblings,” by the time she got home, she had a two-page anecdote to type up.

Lindsey took her small document to work and discovered it resonated with other athletes. They said, “This looks like it belongs on a blog. Have you ever thought about starting one?”

She hadn’t, but she found the idea exciting. She purchased the domain ramblingrunnergirl.com and started blogging. Her initial posts were purely about running and triathlon.

However, she began to write about the training process in the context of her life and struggles. Before Lindsey knew it, she had something more than “ramblings” on her blog. She had a strong idea for a book.

Seeing a Nonfiction Book Inside a Blog

As Lindsey blogged faithfully, she found a powerful metaphor. All of life is like training for a triathlon. Each of us experiences:

  • Fears (swimming)
  • Monotonous obligation (biking)
  • Joys (running)

When she saw how these ideas came together, she said to herself, “I need to tell this story.”

Lindsey completed IRONMAN Arizon in 2014. Not long after, she ran into Paul Gilbride, a former Fleet Feet customer of hers. As they spoke, she shared her experience and book idea.

Listening to Lindsey, Paul said, “I’ve got to introduce you to somebody!” Paul had been working on a book of his own with Nancy Erickson, The Book Professor®.

As an athlete, Lindsey understood how helpful a great coach could be. She decided to write her book with Nancy, choosing the Group Mastermind process.

Lindsey said, “I’m an athlete. I’ve always been part of a team, and I love the camaraderie of people alongside me who are working toward a common goal. The Group Coaching thing was perfect for me.”

Lindsey came to the table with several ideas but no structure. She appreciated Nancy’s step-by-step process, which reminded her of the drills her swimming coach assigned her.

Lindsey said, “I’m a creative. I have a lot of ideas, but sometimes those ideas just kind of float around in my brain without any real purpose. Having Nancy to guide with her modular plan made it really easy to follow and tackle little bits at a time.”

She continued, “When I started swimming, I had no clue what I was doing. The swim coach said, ‘Okay, I want you to swim the length of the pool without using your legs—just your arms.’ Then, later, he had me swim by skimming my fingertips on the top of the water. When you work on one small thing at a time, it’s easier to put the whole thing together into one natural motion.

“That’s how it was with my book. I had all these ideas I was thinking through. But breaking down the book-writing process with Nancy was like learning how to swim.”

However, as Lindsey continued to find personal balance, she decided to go to nursing school. With full-time work, single motherhood, and college, she had to “sideline her book for a while”—halfway through the first draft.

But even though she stopped working on her book, her book kept working on her.

Relying on a Book Coach

Nancy believed in the book and kept in touch with Lindsey. When Lindsey finished school, Nancy asked if she was ready to finish her book.

She was. The two picked up right where they had left off. Though life became busy again, she kept going. Lindsey said, “Nancy was great. She told me to go easy on myself and never beat myself up for not going about it perfectly. Just like with training, there are good days and bad days. You just have to press on.”

Though Lindsey had structured her book around a BookMAP™ 2 structure (problem/solution sets), the book made more sense as a memoir, based around a BookMAP™ 1 structure. (Read more about BookMAPs here.) The whole book ended on a “big moment,” which was the moment she crossed the IRONMAN finishline.

However, for Lindsey, she didn’t feel like the structure worked until she reached the editing phase. After months of work and struggle, while she was out for a run, she saw the opening scene in her mind. When she found that scene, everything clicked into place.

She said, “It’s just like training. You have to trust the process—that it will all come out in the end.”

A Story that Changes Lives

It’s been a whirlwind for Lindsey. She began training for IRONMAN Arizona in 2014. Since then, she’s become a triathlete, a blogger, a nurse, and has even re-married. Through it all, she managed to finish her book, which she was released on January 1, 2020.

Now that her book is out in the world, she’s found how relatable her traumatic experiences are. She said, “My story is very vulnerable. And I have gotten such great feedback from people! My favorite part is that people now share their stories with me.”

She even got an endorsement from Olympic rower—and three-time gold-medalist—Emily Regan. You can buy Lindsey’s book, Stronger: From Trials to Triathlete to Triumphant, on Amazon.

What’s Your Story?

Do you have an amazing story to tell? Some insight into life that you want to share with the world?

At TheBookProfessor.com, we believe you do. Don’t keep it to yourself. And don’t let your ideas just rattle around in your heart, head, or blog. Contact Nancy Erickson and get started on your book.


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Overcoming Writer’s Block Part 4: Structure Is the Secret Sauce

Are you one of these people?

As The Book Professor®, I meet aspiring authors all the time. They say things like:

“I have a big idea that would make a difference. I wish I could figure out how to write it down!”

“My heart breaks for people who go through the same thing I’ve experienced. I wish I could share my story with them.”

“Life would be easier for people in my industry if they only knew what I know. How do I write something they’d want to read?”

“I’ve always wanted to write a book about my experiences. But I don’t know where to start. Maybe I’ll get to it someday.”

Most of these would-be authors have the same difficulty. They have all the pieces of a book rattling around inside them. They can feel it. And sometimes, in more enlightened moments, they can envision what it would look like as a finished product.

But when they get to work, they find themselves so frustrated they quit. They get “writer’s block,” unsure what the next step could be.

I understand their predicament. It’s like having all the materials you need for a beautiful house in an unsorted pile: From lumber and drywall to bathroom fixtures and picture frames. They suggest a structure, but the final product seems out of reach.

Similarly, you have:

  • A story to tell
  • A set of problems you’ve faced
  • A solution to each of those problems
  • Information and anecdotes that relate to each

But which story goes where? What problems from your life belong in the book? And what solutions actually helped you overcome each problem? You need a blueprint to make sense of the creative chaos you have inside you!

To sort through this “pile of materials,” I help my clients create a BookMAP™. It’s two documents that tell you everything you need to know about the book you’re going to write.

When authors work with me, we begin by defining the book’s purpose and audience (more about that here). Then, here’s how we proceed.

BookMAP™ 1: Your Personal Story

When you pour out your story for the first time, it can feel overwhelming. So much has happened, and so much of it is painful to relive. Where do you begin?

Some people think it’s best just to start from the beginning: “I was born in rural Arkansas on a dark and stormy night….”

But this may not be relevant to your reader. So, if you’ve set your purpose statement and defined your audience properly, you have a pretty good idea what the reader will find compelling.

Then, you can frame your story using this formula:

  • What it used to be like
  • What happened
  • What it’s like now

That’s it. It’s a classic “compare and contrast” formula that, once you learn, you can use in nearly any communication—not only your book.

If you write your book to help someone overcome a particular problem, you’ll be able to make your point by telling them:

  • What life was like before you encountered the problem
  • What life was like while you experienced the problem (and worked to overcome it)
  • What life is like now that you’ve conquered the problem

Yes, you need to include your story.

Some people love telling their personal story. But sometimes I’ll get a little push-back from authors who don’t think their story matters for the kind of book they plan to write.

I think your story does matter. When you present yourself as a superhero who knows all the answers, it’s difficult for others to relate to you. But when you establish yourself as a flawed human who’s encountered real problems, you’ll be able to reach people. They’ll see themselves in you, and that will give them hope.

Plus, writing your story is good for your soul. Many of the authors I’ve coached have experienced some pretty powerful moments of revelation as they’ve written their stories. As they relive their most vulnerable moments, they’re impressed by how much they overcame.

They also realize their experience is even more valuable than they initially believed. They move into writing their book with greater confidence, and that’s something authors need for the many months of work that lie ahead.

For some writers, their personal story will reveal the structure of the entire book. For most, however, it will only inform the introduction. But don’t worry: We’ll use this formula inside the chapters of our books as well.

BookMAP™ 2: Working with the Problem/Solution Set

If you’ve talked about books with me, you’ve heard me say this: People don’t buy books; they buy solutions. In BookMAP 1, we establish the story of a problem you’ve faced and overcome. In BookMAP 2, we show your audience exactly how they can overcome their problems, too.

The formula for this is simple as well: Problem/Solution.

It’s tempting to jump right to the solutions. But books that only give us solutions are hard to read. As readers, we have no context for the “information dump” thrown our way—no relatable situation to which we can apply your solutions.

However, readers don’t just want a list of problems, either. If you merely hope to gripe about your industry, the government, or your life, your book probably won’t find much of an audience. The power lies in that combination of problem and solution.

Here’s how it works. Since you know the purpose of your book, the audience you’re trying to reach, and the story you want to tell, write down every problem you faced. In the end, you’ll want to whittle it down to twelve, more or less.

Then, write down the solution you discovered to each of those problems.

This will give us approximately twelve chapters with problem/solution sets that are robust enough to justify hanging some real content on them.

BookMAP™ 2: Diving into Features and Benefits

Each solution that you’ve found to deal with the real problems of life comes with several features. These are the distinctive attributes of the solution you’ve found to the problem your audience faces.

Each of these features will come with a list of benefits.

For example, a feature of my BookMAP process is “clear assignments.” Some of the benefits are:

  • You’ll never have writer’s block — you’ll always know what you’re going to write next
  • You’ll have a plan for finishing your first draft
  • You’ll be able to write quickly and efficiently

Another feature is that you create problem/solution sets that both become chapters and can stand on their own. Some of the benefits include the ways you can use these problem/solution sets to promote your book:

  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • Podcasts
  • Social posts
  • Videos

When you’ve put together your feature/benefits sets, you’ll be able to find at least one good relatable story. And stories are something we already know how to tell:

  • What it used to be like
  • What happened
  • What it’s like now

Do you see how, when you do the work of structuring your book first, you’ll be able to proceed with your first draft? You’ll be able to get moving, and as I like to call it, “Write without Ruts.”

The Structure for the Book Is Not the Book

As we discuss creating a BookMAP for your personal use, you may ask, “Does this kill all my creativity later in the process? Does your system cause me to write to a boring formula?”

That’s not my experience—nor is it the experience of the dozens of authors with whom I’ve worked. Let’s look at another house-building metaphor:

  • When you create your book’s purpose statement, you lay a foundation
  • When you define your book’s audience, you frame the house
  • When you create your problem/solution sets, you build the walls and the roof
  • Now, you’re free to focus all of your attention to make your house beautiful and unique to you

It doesn’t kill your creativity. It gives you the chance to be creative—something a blocked writer never has the opportunity to do.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

When you read through this process, I hope you think, “That makes sense! I can do that!” You can even read a deeper dive into these topics in chapters 13 and 14 of my book, Stop Stalling and Start Writing: Kick the Excuses and Jumpstart Your Nonfiction Book.

However, I believe that people who are serious about their book need more than a framework. They need practical, day in and day out help. They need someone to bounce ideas off of, to be vulnerable with, and to keep them accountable.

That’s what I do for aspiring authors. If you want to write your book—and release a finished, professional copy that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with anything in the market—I’d love to help.

It’s what I do. To talk with me about how I can help you, click here.


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How a business coach turned “creative chaos” into a 5-star non-fiction book

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A Compelling Turn-Around Story

Beth Standlee is the Founder, CEO, and President of TrainerTainment. She’s also a sought-after speaker, coach, and writer. Through her million-dollar company, she teaches people how to sell with confidence.

Beth believes the ability to sell can turn a life around. She understands this truth intimately. A career in sales turned her life around.

When Beth was only nineteen, she unexpectedly became pregnant. Forced to drop out of college, she said, “Instead of getting my bachelor’s degree, I got my M.R.S. degree—then my M.O.M.!”

She believes she could have gotten stuck, unable to reach for the life of her dreams. She discovered sales—a career path that allowed her to fit work around her family’s schedule.

Beth says she was lucky. Blessed with a “wonderful groom,” she had the flexibility to grow as a professional. In 2004, she fulfilled another deferred dream and earned her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Texas.

However, Beth realizes many women aren’t as fortunate as she’s been. Increasingly, she wanted to write a book so others—especially women—could change their life through sales, too.

Her belief in the power of books spurred her on: “I wanted to write a book of my own because I’m a big reader. Books have certainly influenced my life and helped me grow.”

Then she laughed and said, “If this hillbilly from Arkansas can build a business through sales, anybody can!”

Turning Experience into a Compelling Book

As someone with an English degree, Beth is no stranger to the writing process. She writes the blog for TrainerTainment and, since 2006, a monthly column for RePlay Magazine called “The Party Professor.” She thought that writing a book would comfortably fall inside her skill set without much outside help.

So, at the beginning of 2018, she decided to collect her stories and wisdom into a book. She unplugged from work and set aside two weeks to churn out as much as possible. By day two, she realized she needed help.

She bought the book Stop Stalling and Start Writing: Kick the Excuses and Jumpstart Your Nonfiction Book by Nancy Erickson, The Book Professor®. She found Nancy’s structured approach to organizing ideas through BookMAPs™ especially useful.

Beth worked on a draft of her BookMAP but decided to reach out to Nancy for help. When she recalled their first conversation, she remembered saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I need your process for helping folks.”

Nancy asked Beth when they would need to publish. It was February 2018 at the time. Beth had a big trade show coming up in June and hoped she could to release it then. Much to Beth’s surprise, Nancy told her five months wouldn’t be enough to finish a book. “Quality takes time,” Nancy said.

Disappointed, Beth said, “At first I thought, ‘What kind of coach are you?’ But then I realized, as a coach myself, how hard it is being on the buyer’s side of coaching. I didn’t like the things Nancy was saying at first. But just like I understand sales, Nancy understood her process. It made me think, ‘So this is how those salespeople feel when a coach comes to help them!”

Partnership with a Book-Writing Coach

Beth felt comfortable with Nancy almost immediately. “It was very collaborative. Nancy helped me focus my story through an extremely efficient process. I came to her with ‘creative chaos,’ and she helped me organize it.”

First, they created a purpose statement. Beth wanted the book to show people—especially women—that a professional career in sales could change someone’s life both professionally and personally.

Soon after, Beth and Nancy structured the book’s problem/solution sets, an innovative part of the BookMAP process. Beth said, “From a speaker’s point of view, I really understood Nancy’s system. Make a point, then drive that point home. It was the same process: First problem. Then solution. Then here’s a story that’s going to help you remember that solution.”

Because Beth worked with Nancy one-to-one, she had the freedom to customize the writing process to her creative style. After some initial back and forth, Beth decided to complete the first draft in one large chunk, then send it to Nancy for feedback.

The notes Nancy gave Beth were insightful. They were also actionable. Beth was able to incorporate the edits during a difficult time—her husband was in the hospital, diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She finished her book as she cared for her husband (who’s now doing much better).

As they approached the final stages of editing, she relied heavily on Nancy’s consistent feedback, especially during such a difficult period.

A Five-Star Book on Amazon!

Beth’s partnership with Nancy gave her the ability to write and organize something as long and complicated as a book. She said, “I’m not a process-driven person, so I really connected with Nancy and her method.”

The Book Professor’s system helped Beth get the book to market as well. She said, “I wouldn’t have kept going if I had been responsible for editing, registering, coming up with the cover, and everything. I could do it, but I’m too busy!”

By May 2019, Beth released her book, People Buy from People. As of the publication of this article, all thirteen customer ratings on Amazon are five out of five stars.

She’s been able to accomplish all of her goals, even donating the book to several women-in-need organizations. Beth said, “When I write my next book, Nancy will be involved!”

To learn more about Beth Standlee’s book, People Buy from People, or to buy a copy, click here.

Are you ready to write your non-fiction book?

At The Book Professor®, we believe nearly anyone can write a quality book. But if you’re a busy professional, you may not feel like you have the time to create something that will truly make you feel proud.

Though many people begin writing books, few of them finish. Those who do rarely end up with a product they feel is worthy of the marketplace.

At TheBookProfessor.com, we help people from all walks of life get from a concept to a high-quality finished book. If you have a story that you need help writing, contact Nancy Erickson here.


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Overcoming Writer’s Block Part 3: The “Just Start Writing” Myth

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First Drafts: Cracking the Code

Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself, “I can do that! I have something to say, and it doesn’t look that difficult.”

If this sounds like you, that’s wonderful! I firmly believe you have a book inside you. And though writing one isn’t easy, it’s something just about anyone can do if they have the will to work hard.

However, most people begin the process with a fatal flaw: They go straight from a flash of inspiration to typing their first draft. They think back to a schoolteacher, a friend, or a creativity guru who said:

  • “If you finish a page a day, you’ll have a 365-page book at the end of the year.”
  • “Your book will write itself if you just let it flow out of you.”
  • “Just turn off your internal editor and write.” (This is good advice for later — but not yet!)

Writing a book isn’t like reading one. Though there are a few experienced writers who are the exception, most cannot start with page one and end when the material runs out.

This is what usually happens to someone who proceeds this way. Though the words flow easily at first, things get messy. Without a clear purpose, audience, or structure, the writer has no clue:

  • How to order their ideas
  • What stories to tell
  • What style to employ
  • How to market the finished product — if they get that far!

As The Book Professor®, I have a process that helps writers work with clarity and precision. My clients create nonfiction books that hit home with readers, solve real problems, and create opportunities beyond their publication.

Recently, and independently from each other, two former clients used the same metaphor to describe what my process was like for them.

So, if you can, think back to 1999.

It’s like The Matrix

Do you remember the movie The Matrix? It’s about a character named Neo (Keanu Reeves) who realizes he and his fellow humans have been living their lives inside a computer program, convinced it was real life. Now, outside of the program, he’s able to see the computer code that defined his existence.

In one scene, he watches Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) look at screens where the code they know as The Matrix streams past. Unlike Neo, Cypher can read the symbols.

Neo says, “Do you always look at it encoded?”

Cypher says, “[…] There’s way too much information to decode the Matrix. You get used to it. I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead.”

In other words, where Neo sees a jumbled mess, Cypher sees people. Later in the film, when Neo can finally read the code, a whole new world opens up to him.

This is how it feels to figure out the purpose, audience, and structure of your book. All the jumbled thoughts you’ve had suddenly fall into place. You can see how your ideas, stories, and marketing plan will work together to reach people with your message.

If you follow these three strategies, you’ll crack the “code” that will allow you to sit down and write your nonfiction book freely and coherently.

Nonfiction Writing Strategy 1: Purpose Statement

Good nonfiction books exist to effectively deliver an idea to an audience in a way they can understand. Writers who know this and create a purpose statement have a leg up over writers who don’t.

First, books with a clear purpose keep readers engaged. Confident the book will take them on a coherent journey, people will continue to read, provided the material is relevant to them.

Second, books with a clear purpose are focused. The writer only includes relevant information and anecdotes, which makes their ideas shine more brightly.

Bonus: The writer can save all of his or her other ideas for the next book!

This is what happened for podiatrist and writer Dr. Peter Wishnie. Having finished his first book—one that had an unambiguous purpose statement—he came back to me almost immediately. With plenty of material left over, he’s ready to work on his next book!

Executive Coach Mike Kitko worked very hard to focus his book’s purpose statement, too. Before he had even completed his final draft, he found himself able to structure two more books almost immediately.

That’s the power of a focused purpose statement!

Nonfiction Writing Strategy 2: Audience Definition

Your purpose statement goes hand in hand with the audience you want to reach. Define this group as narrowly as possible. It’s rare to have too narrow a niche for three reasons.

First, audience definition will bring an even more precise focus. You’ll be able to surgically remove information and anecdotes that will be irrelevant to them. If you decide to rewrite the book for a new audience, you can keep the same structure but change the stories!

Second, audience definition will help inform the words you choose. Once again, the narrower, the better! You wouldn’t quote Scripture to atheists, use war metaphors with pacifists, or describe a juicy steak to a vegan. If you know your audience, you’ll be able to speak their unique language.

Third, audience definition will help you market your book. A narrow audience will likely have their own niche blogs, magazines, podcasts, and meetings. Your book will come with a built-in marketing plan and will serve a larger purpose in your life and career.

Nonfiction Writing Strategy 3: Stay tuned!

Next month, we’re going to talk about how to structure your book. This final step in what I call “Module 1” will allow you to write freely and quickly. (More about our modules here.)

As I share this, I want you to feel inspired. I hope you think, “I can do this!” and start tinkering with your purpose statement right away.

But there’s a reason my clients want to work with a coach. They’re busy people who don’t have time to experiment, figure things out on their own, then only maybe end the process with something that will accomplish their goals.

Whether you want to write your book one-on-one with me or in a group of like-minded changemakers, I’d love to talk.

Get in touch so we can begin our conversation!

 


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Author Rich Daniels: Writing a Deeply Personal Story for the Sake of Others

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A Tourist in His Own Life

Rich Daniels was in the midst of a career marked by impressive accomplishments. His resumé included positions in marketing, operations, and strategy for a variety of corporations with an international reach. He traveled worldwide and enjoyed the rewards of his success.

At the same time, he got to live a dream when he became a co-owner of Amigos Cantina, a popular and highly-rated St. Louis area restaurant and co-founder of Yurbuds sport headphones.

Rich is also a husband and father of three. But his home life wasn’t what he hoped it would be. As someone who worked and traveled incessantly, he felt out of step with his wife, Megan, and his three kids (Grace, Luc, and Zoey).

Megan ran their home like a well-oiled machine. When Rich would come home, he’d feel like a disruption to what she’d created. Though he loved his children, he didn’t have a deep relationship with them and was unable to communicate that he knew, valued, and loved each of them individually.

Rich realized he was little more than a “tourist in his own life.”

He spoke with his pastor, acknowledged his problem, then said he wanted to join the men’s group. He hoped to spend time with dads like himself and was curious if any of them had figured out how to live the kind of life he desired—one that struck a balance between work and home.

The church didn’t have a group like that, so the pastor asked Rich to help him put one together. The group would meet in the Daniels family basement. Rich agreed but was so busy that he didn’t make the first two meetings. When he made it to the third, he realized that all of the other men in his group faced the same problem.

It took awhile, but with the support of both his wife and his men’s group, Rich began to rebuild his home life. He slowed down at work. He and Megan decided how they wanted to parent as a couple. Rich became a vital member of his home and community. His life began to improve.

Then, a chance encounter made Rich realize that men outside his current circle needed what he’d discovered.

The Drive to Write a Non-Fiction Book

As Rich made changes to his life, a chance encounter unsettled him. He attended a networking meeting where he chatted with a man who seemed happy and successful.

Six months later, Rich learned that the man took his own life. Rich was shocked. He said, “I grew up with brothers, so I always had someone to lean on when I needed to.”

Rich wanted to reach out to highly-driven men like this one and share the wisdom he’d gained through experience and his men’s group. He wanted to tell them there was a better way to live, and that they didn’t have to go it alone.

Rich decided it was time to write a book. Unfortunately, he had no idea how to start. He shared his thoughts with a friend, who told Rich about The Book Professor®, Nancy Erickson.

Rich visited thebookprofessor.com and took the Self-Directed Book Writing Program. Soon, he decided he wanted to finish his book with Nancy’s help. He hired her as his Personal Book-Writing Coach.

A Legacy to Leave and an Idea to Communicate

Rich entered the book-writing process with a concept designed to reach Christian men. His working title, Creating Gravity, was about “creating gravity that would draw guys to Christ.”

In conversations about his book, Nancy challenged the premise. She envisioned a larger audience for his ideas. Rich thought about it. He said, “Nancy has this saying: ‘While you’re working on your book, your book is working on you.’”

And that’s what happened. The audience expanded in Rich’s mind. His message began to solidify, and he started to codify the ideas he and Megan practiced at home. He could break it down into three main concepts—that every member of the Daniels family would:

  • Feel known. Rich and Megan learned and engaged with his kids’ interests, tastes, and experiences more deeply. They wanted their kids to feel like they were “part of the team”—members of the family, not just someone familiar to be ordered around.
  • Feel valued. In his new family paradigm, Rich began to listen more closely to each person’s words, thoughts, and feelings. Every person now had a chance to be heard.
  • Feel loved. Rich believes every person experiences love differently. He said, “With my wife, it’s when I do chores for her around the house. My daughter Grace, on the other hand, needs words of praise and affirmation.”

Nancy pointed out these three concepts as possible sections for Rich’s book. He hadn’t seen it before that moment. For Rich, Nancy’s perspective made all the difference. It allowed him to write his book quickly and with a sense of purpose.

Authors and “Expert Status”

Though Rich creates effective business strategies for a living, he didn’t have a comprehensive marketing plan for his book. He created a few videos and did a little social marketing, but stopped there.

All he wanted was to have a book to give to guys going through a hard time, like the man he met at the networking meeting.

But the title of “author” continues to afford him extraordinary opportunities.

From time to time, he’s able to bring his message as a guest speaker to groups of men. He said, “My book was more a collection of shortcomings and lessons that I felt were worth me sharing. I wanted to encourage other men to be more engaged at home. But when you publish a book, people see you as an expert.”

Rich shares the message of the book often. He gets to tell others, “As guys, we want the adventure. And with any journey or adventure, we are presented with adversity which we must overcome. It requires the help of God and others. Find a men’s group at your local church or in your community. Get connected with other guys on the journey.”

Rich Daniels’s touching book, A Tourist in My Own Life, is available on Amazon.

The Power of Your Story

Many of us have a compelling story to tell, but don’t have a way to “get it out.” And when we start, it’s easy to get stuck on what we think the book should be rather than what it wants to be —and what would potentially reach the greatest number of people.

If the book you want to write feels like a code you can’t crack, we at The Book Professor® can help. We guide writers and non-writers alike from concept to published book. It’s not easy, but our process has worked for many others—and, if you’re willing, it can work for you too.

If you’re ready to get your book out of your head and into a final, professional, and published form, let’s start a conversation.

 

 


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