Overcoming Writer’s Block Part 4: Structure Is the Secret Sauce - Write a Nonfiction Book with The Book Professor

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

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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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