Jim Canfield Archives - Write a Nonfiction Book with The Book Professor

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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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