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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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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.

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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, 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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