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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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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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