How do you decide what to write?

Whether you’re writing a blog post or a book, you’ve likely asked yourself what you should write. It may feel like you could write about anything – after all, thanks to the internet, you can research anything you want. But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

If you’re writing for your business, instead of thinking about every topic you could write about, you need to identify what your current and future clients need to read from you.

Step 1: Feelings

I’m sure you’ve heard that people don’t buy features, they buy feelings. They choose their reading material the same way. So before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you need to ask yourself how you want your readers to feel after they read your post or book.

When I work with clients on this, I ask them to come up with three to five words that describe how they want people to feel after any interaction with their business. These are also called your brand values or brand words.

Take some time over this step to come up with the right list of words for you. These shouldn’t change in their core message. For example, my main words are supported, empowered, fearless, determined, and nurtured. So whatever feeling I seek to inspire through a particular piece of writing is going to be either one of these or something closely related.

Once you have a list you’re happy with, write it down and post it in your writing space.

When you write something new for your business, take some time to decide which of those words (or related feelings) you’re going to concentrate on.

Step 2: Where does it fit in your business?

Once you know how you want your reader to feel after they read your new piece, you need to think about how what you’re writing fits into your business overall. You can do this by asking yourself questions like these:

  • Is what you’re writing a product in and of itself, or is it meant to pique your readers’ interest in one of your products or services?
  • Are you writing something to help your clients solve a particular problem?
  • Are you trying to teach something?
  • Are you trying to establish your expertise?
  • Are you trying to help your client get to know you and how you can help them?

Step 3: Bring the feeling and purpose together

Write the feeling you want to inspire and the purpose of your piece on a sheet of paper and brainstorm. You’ll find it easier to brainstorm on unlined paper, and you’ll be more creative if you write with brightly coloured pens or pencils.

When you brainstorm, set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and try to write continuously. Just write whatever comes to mind – you may be surprised by what comes out. Once time is up, reread what you’ve written. Underline or circle the topics you’re most excited about. Then, write your favourite at the top of a new piece of paper (keep the others for later).

Step 4: Write your statement of argument

In this step, you need to state the point of what you’re writing in one sentence. This sentence must be arguable.

For example, if you were writing an article about soup, this would not work as your statement of argument: Chicken noodle is a kind of soup.

Why wouldn’t it work? Because it’s a simple statement of fact. There’s nothing for you to explore or prove.

This would work: You should eat chicken noodle soup when you have a cold because it has been shown to have healing properties.

Unlike the statement of fact, this one gives you something to work with. You can present and evaluate the studies that have shown ingredients in chicken noodle soup to have healing properties. Also, you can address the effect of eating something that’s soothing and familiar when you’re feeling run down with a cold.

Step 5: Ask questions

Once you have your statement of argument, it’s time to write your outline. I always suggest doing this by asking questions of your statement of argument.

This method is useful because it easy to implement, and it will keep you focused on your main topic.

If you’re writing a blog post, you probably only need 3 or 4 questions. If you’re writing a book, you’ll need to start with 10 or so.

To begin with, just list the questions. So, returning to our statement about soup you could ask these questions:

  1. Are these healing properties peculiar to chicken noodle soup, or would other soups work just as well?
  2. What healing properties has it been shown to have?
  3. Why is chicken noodle soup good when you have a cold?

You’re going to answer these questions to produce your text. I prefer using questions for the outline to listing topics because humans better at answering questions than writing on topics.

After you list your questions, you need to put them in a logical order. The order for the questions I’ve listed isn’t logical. If I were to write this, I’d need to answer question 2 before question 1. Question 3, however, could come at the beginning or the end of the post. When this happens, you’ll just have to write the post and decide which placement is best.

What’s next?

All that’s left now is to write your text (by answering the questions you listed in step 5), and then polishing and publishing it.

To make sure you’re the first to find out about new posts and resources to help you with your business writing, sign up for my newsletter below:

Jump in at the Deep End: Be a Fearless Writer

Before a swimming lesson when I was about two years old I jumped in at the deep end of the pool.

I loved jumping into the water, so while we were waiting for the lesson to begin my mum had been putting me up on the side so I could jump in, in the shallow end, where she was waiting to catch me.

I had other plans.

Mum put me on the side and she saw me walk towards the other end of the pool, where my swimming teacher had just entered. She thought I was just going to get a pre-lesson hug.

Instead, I was headed for the deep end. I stood next to the diving board and jumped in. My mum figured out where I was headed and got to me shortly after I jumped.

At two, I’d already learned to swim the width of the pool unaided, but I really had no business tackling its length. But of course toddlers don’t think of these things. For me then, there was no real difference between one end of the pool and the other (I couldn’t touch bottom anywhere) except the diving boards where the big kids got to jump in.

I had no fear. I wanted to jump in the deep end, so I did.

Child-like fearlessness vs the ‘shoulds’

Parents and carers everywhere are relieved that not all children express their fearlessness as dramatically (and potentially dangerously) as I did – but all kids are fearless.

When you first started drawing pictures and doing colouring in, you thought nothing of making the sky bright pink with green clouds and a purple sun. It was only when you got older that you started editing yourself: you learned (whether you were formally taught or not) that the sky should be blue, clouds should be white or grey, and the sun should be yellow and orange.

These are just a few of the ‘shoulds’ you bumped up against early in life. None of these shoulds, on their own, made a huge difference in who you were or how you acted, but taken together, they have a massive effect on your life.

Some of these changes are good, life-preserving ones: I no longer jump without looking, but I still have no fear of water. Others can get in the way. Why can’t the sun be purple; it’s your picture, isn’t it?

Using play to keep the shoulds at bay

It can be helpful to know how to quiet the shoulds any time they’re getting in the way of what you really want to do – whether they’re interfering in a business decision, a life choice, or in your writing.

Unsurprisingly, we’re going to focus on how they get in the way of your writing. If you look back at early examples of your writing, you didn’t let little things like not knowing how to form letters or spell words get in your way. You wrote what you wanted to write anyway.

Now that you’ve grown up, you do need to edit your writing to make it easy for others to understand, but only after you’ve made the beautiful mess your inner child delights in.

How do you do this? You get creative.

Keep a stash of brightly-coloured, unlined paper and some crayons or glitter pens on hand. When you need to write fearlessly, step away from the keyboard, get your art supplies out, and create.

When you do this, your inner editor (the keeper of the shoulds) will get out of your way and let you write freely without fear of judgement. She knows that when you’re colouring, you’re not writing copy that’s going to go out into the world. Since she knows you’re not going to post things from your colouring pages to your website (though you could if you wanted to!!), she doesn’t mind how many ‘rules’ you break.

When you use play in the early stages of creation, you make connections and have ideas that you wouldn’t have had if you were following the rules. Being a truly fearless writer gives you the freedom to express yourself, explore ideas, and find your voice.

Once all the words and ideas are out of your head and on the page, your inner editor won’t be so fearful of them. She’ll see that you wrote them and nothing bad happened to you – she doesn’t need to protect you from them.

‘Anything can happen’

This post has reminded me of a poem by one of my favourite children’s poets: Shel Silverstein.

LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

from Where the Sidewalk Ends



If you need help being a fearless writer, sign up for my newsletter below.

Why do you need to use reliable sources?

We are surrounded by information – television, radio, the internet, books, magazines, podcasts, … How do you recognise reliable sources when you see them?

As people living in this information-saturated world, we need to have ways of navigating it and deciding what to engage with and what to ignore. As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers to filter out unreliable information when we choose what sources to use in our books, blogs, and articles.

What is are reliable sources?

Reliable sources are ones that you can trust. They are created by authors with actual knowledge of the topic under discussion, and they rely on facts and well-reasoned arguments to make their points rather than sensationalism or emotion.

Some examples of reliable sources include:

  • academic books and journals (these undergo a rigorous review process in which other experts weigh in on their credibility);
  • major news outlets like The New York Times, CNN, and the BBC  (professional journalists are trained to present facts in a fair and balanced way);
  • sites like MindBodyGreen (they expect their writers to be trained professionals who support their claims with credible research).

What is an unreliable source?

Unreliable sources take many forms. Some are not necessarily created to obscure the facts or fool the reader; we’ll call these benign. Meanwhile, others are created to fool the reader; we’ll call these malignant.

Benignly unreliable sources

A popular unreliable source that wasn’t created to fool anyone is Wikipedia. Much of the information on Wikipedia is true, but anyone in the world can edit a wiki entry for any reason. This simple fact makes Wikipedia suspect as a source. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should never read wikis, but you do need to be careful and use them with caution.

If you find interesting information on Wikipedia that you want to use in something you’re writing, find out where it came from. Many wiki entries list their sources; if those sources are reliable, you can use them to support your claim in whatever you’re writing. If they’re not reliable, move on.

Malignantly unreliable sources

Clickbait is an obvious example of an unreliable source that is created to fool the reader. If you click on it and use it to waste a little time, no harm has been done. However, if you use the clickbait claims in your own writing and present them as true, you risk damaging your credibility and at the very least annoying your reader.

Other malignantly unreliable sources include propaganda and those social media posts that look like news stories but aren’t. These kinds of sources rely on emotional and sensational claims to convince the reader of something.

Recognising these can be difficult. The best way is to look objectively at what claim is being made and ask yourself whether the writer is using fact and reasonable argument, or emotion to make their point.

How do you vet your sources?

If you find an article (or other source) that’s not from an obviously credible source, you need to vet it to determine whether you want to use it or not.

Who wrote it?

To do that, you should first find out who wrote it. Is there a full author bio or link to the author’s other work? Once you find out who wrote it, find out whether they’re experts in the field. What are their qualifications and relevant experience? What else have they written?

Some credible sources don’t list individual sources, so don’t be too alarmed if you can’t find the author’s name. In these cases, you need to determine what organisation produced the source and ask questions like these: Are they credible? Are they likely to have hired professionals to write for them? What else have they produced?

What kind of language does it use?

Look at the language. Is it emotive or rational? If it’s emotive, ask yourself why it is. Is it trying to persuade you of something or is it simply on an emotionally charged topic?

For example, if the piece is on the writer’s experience of losing a loved one, the language will be emotive. But, importantly, the writer won’t be trying to convince the reader of anything. This means the source is likely reliable.

When was it written?

Depending on your topic, the age of your source could be important. If you’re writing about how the Victorians responded to the introduction of anaesthesia (as I will be in my next book!), sources from the nineteenth century are valid. However, if you’re writing about how your reader can treat a medical condition, your sources should take current research into account.

Let me know if you have any questions

If you come across sources you’re not sure about, contact me; I’ll be happy to have a quick look and help you decide whether they’re credible or not. Part of my PhD training was in how to evaluate and responsibly use sources.

If you want to be the first to find out about new posts and other exciting news, sign up for my newsletter below!

How will it feel to see your book on the shelf?

The test copy of my book arrived this week! When you publish your book as a printed book (as opposed to an ebook), you can order a test copy so you can see what your readers will get when they buy your book.

Before I get into how it feels to hold your book for the first time and put it on your shelf, I’ll briefly describe what you need to do when you get your test copy.

What do you do with a test copy?

Once you stop marvelling at the fact that you’re holding your book in your hand, you need to take a close look at it.

This is not at all the same as the proofreading stage – you’re not looking for sentence level errors now because they should have been sorted before your book was typeset.

So what are you looking for? When you examine your test copy, you’re looking at the overall layout and quality. Is the artwork arranged how and where you want it? Are the pages laid out correctly?

While at this stage you don’t need to read every word of your book, you do need to carefully look at each page. When you do this, you’re keeping your reader’s experience in mind. Is this the kind of book your reader will enjoy reading?

How did I feel?

I knew when the test copy was arriving and expected to feel excited the first time I held it.

It was exciting, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on over the last couple of days.

Thrilled

It’s thrilling to hold your book, to see that it’s real, to know that the hard work of writing and revising it is nearly finished!

I was happy, relieved and excited all at once. I wanted to show it to anyone who would look at it. I also loved putting it on the shelf and seeing that it looks like it belongs there amongst all the other books!

Sad

I was a little sad. I feel like I should have anticipated this because of how I felt when I finished my thesis. But I didn’t – it caught me by surprise.

On reflection, this response makes sense: this part of my journey is over. Endings, even ones we look forward to like finishing school, are inherently sad. We’re moving from what we’ve known into the unknown, or at least something we know less well than what came before.

Explaining this feeling to those closest to you is another matter. I’m pretty sure my husband is still confused by my response yesterday. He kept saying, ‘but it’s good that you have your book now’. He’s a published author (Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction), he’s been here, but he responded very differently.

This isn’t the first time I’ve perplexed him, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Scared

I was scared. This book is going to be out in the world very, very soon. While it was an idea, it was safe. No one could read it. No one could decide they don’t like it. No one could decide they think it’s brilliant and start referring people to me.

I knew this response was likely, and I address these feelings in my book in chapters 19 (Dealing with criticism) and 20 (Dealing with praise). I’m trying to take my own advice here and remember that judgements (good or bad) of my book are not judgements of me as a person.

This response is another one that perplexed my husband. I don’t like arguments that men are one way and women are another way (men are from Mars, women are from Venus). Humans are too wonderfully complex to be put into neat little categories like that. Nevertheless, historically, female authors have been more likely to have, or at least to give voice to, fearful responses to publication.

They range from Anne Bradstreet’s poetic response in ‘The Author to Her Book‘, in which she calls her book ‘Thou ill form’d offspring of my feeble brain’, to George Eliot’s (pen name for Marian Evans) avoidance of all reviews. She feared positive and negative reviews in equal measure. Eliot thought positive ones would make her feel she’d never write so well again (and therefore shouldn’t try), while negative ones would reinforce her self doubt which would cause her to stop writing.

If you respond to impending publication with fear, try to remember to sit with your feelings for a bit: counter any arguments your impostor syndrome throws at you and trust that this too shall pass.

What’s next?

I’ll have a publication date soon. That still seems weird. A year ago today, I hadn’t even started writing the first draft! I started writing it on 23 April 2019.

If you’re thinking of embarking on this weird and wonderful journey of becoming a published author, sign up for my free ecourse: How to get clear on your book and who it’s for in just 3 days!

What Happens When You Work with a Publishing Consultant: Interior design, proofs, and metadata

So you’ve finished your manuscript, thoroughly revised it, sent it to your beta readers, applied their feedback, and sent it to your proofreader. You must be done, right?

No. Sorry, you’re not.

Now it’s time to get your publishing consultant involved.

What is a publishing consultant?

I hired Sam Pearce of Swatt Books to help me publish my book, There’s a Book in Every Expert (that’s you!). My book is ‘self-published’, which means I retain all rights to it, but Sam has sorted all of the formatting, ISBN numbers, etc. If you want details of everything that’s involved in self-publishing a book, you’ll need to read Sam’s afterword in my book!

Here, I’m going to discuss what working with her has been like from my end.

Interior design

After I signed the contract to work with Sam, we agreed a date by which I would send my manuscript to her. Once she received it, she started on the interior design for the book.

First, she gave me a questionnaire to get an idea of how I wanted the inside of the book to look. This included questions about my preferred size for the finished book, which fonts I like/can’t stand, and which already published books I like the look of.

Sam took this data and my manuscript and produced three mock-ups for me to consider. She included pages with chapter headings, pages with lists, and pages with just text and subheadings, so I would get a feel for how the whole book would look with the three different layouts.

I then chose the aspects I liked from each and she made a composite mock-up. We tweaked a couple of things after that (spaces between paragraphs to give the reader room to think and font size to make the text easier to read).

When I was happy, she made the first set of proofs.

Why couldn’t I just use my typed manuscript?

You may be wondering why, since I typed my manuscript, I needed any interior design at all. I needed it because a word processed document is not a book.

You want your book to look and feel like, well, a book. You also want it to be easy to read for as wide an audience as possible.

Publishing consultants should know which fonts are easiest for people with dyslexia to work with, for example. You don’t want to publish your book in your favourite font only for it to be inaccessible to a significant portion of your target audience.

Also, consultants understand how to set the margins correctly – you have to allow for binding the book – and how to ensure optimal readability by choosing the right line height and spacing.

I’ve been a writer for a long time and a reader for even longer, and it didn’t occur to me until Sam mentioned it that it’s useful to have spaces between paragraphs in nonfiction books. Having that visual break gives the reader a break to process the information given in the paragraph.

Finally, it’s irritating to read a badly designed book, even if you can’t pinpoint what you find irritating about it. It’s a publishing consultant’s job to help you make choices that will make your book easy for your audience to read!

Reading your proofs

As I said above, after the design phase, Sam typeset the book and sent me the first of three sets of proofs.

She typeset the manuscript as it was after I had made the changes suggested by my editor. The point of reading the page proofs is to make sure the editor’s changes made it into the proofs and to check for other errors. This isn’t the time for major changes like restructuring your book – that should happen before the book is typeset. Waiting to do it later may cause you to incur extra charges for the extra work it requires of the typesetter.

By the time you get to the proofs stage, you’ve likely read your book a number of times. Most of these readings will be on your computer screen, and all of them are likely to have been of your word processed manuscript.

You’ll be better able to spot errors now that your book has been typeset because it looks very different to the manuscript you sent off. However, you still need to print it out. We proofread better on paper than on the screen.

Once you’ve printed your proofs, read them through start to finish and compare them to your final (professionally edited) manuscript. This will take time and energy. I don’t recommend trying to do more than about 20 pages in a sitting because the work requires intense concentration.

So, when you get your proofs back, you need to plan your proofreading time wisely to make sure you get them back to your consultant on time – if you’re late you’ll delay the production of your book.

My proofs were sent in PDF format and I made comments on them for what the typesetter needed to change. When you receive your second proofs, you need to make sure the changes you requested for the first ones were applied correctly. You’ll mark this one like the first and, hopefully, in the third set, you’ll just confirm everything is complete and correct.

Help your consultant help you

At some point, you consultant will ask you for both a short and long description of your book and for metadata, or which genres/subgenres it should be listed under. You need to take your time with these steps because they will influence the success of your book.

Your consultant will help you refine your choices, but you’re responsible for doing most of the work.

Your book descriptions need to be concise, engaging, and detailed. You may think it should be easy to summarise your own work, but you’ll be surprised by how tricky it is to do so in 400 characters or fewer!

The metadata is important because it will help booksellers understand what kind of book yours is. This will help them understand where it fits among all the other books they sell and will help your readers find your book.

Do you have to hire a consultant?

Of course you don’t. It’s your book, you may publish it however you wish. If you decide to go it alone (or must because of financial constraints), you need to allow yourself time to thoroughly familiarise yourself with all aspects of self publishing.

I hired a consultant because I understand how much is involved in self publishing, and I know I didn’t have the time or the inclination to learn all of it. After all, there’s little point in writing a book, if you’re not going to give it its best possible chance of reaching the people who need to read it!

Click below to learn more about my forthcoming book!

How I fit writing in around my life

If you follow me for any length of time, you’ll find I’m insistent that you can (almost always) fit writing in around everything else you need to do. If you’ve resisted hearing that message, you’ve probably wondered what it looks like in practice.

I’ve been there. I used to imagine that ‘real’ writers, because I (then) a lowly PhD student couldn’t possibly count amongst them, spent hours and hours at their keyboards every day churning out beautifully written, thoroughly researched prose.

That’s not how writing works. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone!

This is how writing works for me

I wrote the first draft of my book, There’s a Book in Every Expert (May 2020), in four weeks. I never wrote for more than two hours a day, and I didn’t write on weekends.

Also, I only rarely wrote for two consecutive hours. Usually, I wrote in half hour spurts spread throughout the day.

I wrote on trains, in cafés, and, sometimes, at my desk in my office.

I rarely had uninterrupted time – phones must be answered, appointments must be kept, laundry must be changed; in other words, life goes on even when you’re writing.

My day would go something like this: Write first thing in the morning (because I often woke up with ideas and needed to get them on paper before I forgot), had breakfast, showered, started work, paused to write for a bit, worked some more, had lunch, and then spent the afternoon dividing my time between work and writing. I usually quit for the day by 5 or 6 and leave the writing until morning.

To write your book, you only need to find a few windows for writing in your day, most days. You do not need to retreat to a remote cabin, cut off from civilisation to write it.

How did 10-ish hours a week produce a book?

I wrote quickly, and I’ve learned to accept that all first drafts need to be shit. These points are related.

First drafts that are not shit, never get finished. Instead, they remain pristine, imaginary drafts that never make it to the page.

Your first draft’s only job is to be finished.

That bears repeating: your first draft’s only job is to be finished.

There’s no point in trying to write a ‘good’ first draft. When you try to perfect draft (write a first draft that’s good enough to be your final draft), what you end up doing is taking a really long time to produce a shitty first draft.

Are you still sceptical? You don’t have to take my word for it. Anne Lamott, the writer of one of the best writing books in print – Bird by Bird, agrees. She discusses it in her chapter called ‘Shitty First Drafts’, which you’ll find here.

Returning to the question of how I wrote a book in about 40 hours, the answer is simple: I wrote as quickly as I possibly could.

It really is that ‘simple’

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Neil Gaiman, a talented and prolific author, wrote, ‘hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new’.

The key to writing your first draft is to not get too hung up on making it interesting or new. You just need to get the words on the page.

In the revision stages (yes, there are more than one), you polish your writing and shape it into something interesting and new.

How do you stop yourself from getting hung up on the quality of your writing or ideas? Chiefly, by writing as fast as your pen will go or your fingers will type. When we write quickly, we don’t have time to censor ourselves.

Those of us (many of us) with highly developed internal editors struggle with this and experience impostor syndrome as a result.

Silencing your internal editor

You don’t want to do away with your internal editor altogether – you’ll need her when you revise your book. However, if you are struggling to keep her quiet long enough to let you write your first draft, the best thing you can do is to practice freewriting for 5 to 10 minutes a day for several weeks. This involves writing whatever comes into your head during that time – don’t let your pen leave the page and don’t go back to correct mistakes. To learn more about freewriting, click here.

You also need to remind yourself that all good writers produce multiple drafts. This is what I say about drafting in Chapter 9 of my book:

Unless your goal is to irritate your reader, the first draft is never the final draft (neither is the second or third draft, for that matter). The idea that a ‘true artist’ or a ‘real writer’ doesn’t need to produce draft after draft has been with us for a long time. It goes all the way back to the Greeks with Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’s head. You wouldn’t expect a newborn to get a job and be a productive member of society, so don’t expect your first draft to be your final draft.

There’s a Book in Every Expert

I assume your draft is not Athena, so it doesn’t need to be perfect! Keep reminding yourself of this until you believe it. Use it as your mantra, meditate on it, do whatever you have to do to convince yourself your draft doesn’t need to be perfect.

After all, your first draft’s only job is to be finished!

Works cited

Gaiman, Neil. ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ Retrieved from: https://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/Where_do_you_get_your_ideas%3F

Jones, Jennifer. There’s a Book in Every Expert (that’s you!): How to write your credibility building book in six months (forthcoming, 2020).

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor Books, 1995).

Don’t commit intellectual property theft

I’ve had a few clients lately who had concerns about how to responsibly use other people’s words and ideas. In other words, they wanted to know how to be sure they weren’t committing intellectual property (IP) theft.

What is intellectual property?

We’ll start with the UK government’s definition of IP:

Intellectual property is something unique that you physically create. An idea alone is not intellectual property. For example, an idea for a book doesn’t count, but the words you’ve written do. (https://www.gov.uk/intellectual-property-an-overview)

IP is property, and just as stealing someone else’s physical things has legal consequences, so does stealing their IP.

In the UK (if you live elsewhere, check the laws in your country), written work is automatically protected by copyright. You don’t have to register it anywhere.

Why should you be concerned about it?

Plagiarism is the proper term for IP in written work. Another way of thinking about it is presenting someone else’s work as your own. We all knew at school we weren’t supposed to do this, but in the business world the consequences can be far more severe than a failing mark on an assignment.

If you commit IP theft, at the very least you risk ruining your reputation. At worst, you risk facing legal proceedings because IP theft can, in certain circumstances, be a criminal offense.

How do you avoid IP theft?

The short answer is to give credit where credit’s due: reference all of your sources. This doesn’t necessarily have to involve using the, sometimes, convoluted referencing systems used by academics, but you will need a system of some sort.

In this section, I’ll explain the one I use.

Above, I quoted the gov.uk page on intellectual property. When I introduced the quotation, I mentioned the source (UK government), and immediately after the quotation, I gave my readers the link so they could find the quotation themselves.

If you were to quote a book, it would look like this:

In No Plot? No Problem! Chris Baty encourages writers to stay hydrated; he says, ‘Beverage scientists have discovered that dehydration is one of the main factors in making a person feel tired’ (82).

In this example, the underlined words are mine and those enclosed in inverted commas are Baty’s. I’ve given the page number in parentheses.

The words in bold introduce the quotation and include a shortened form of the full title: No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. I’ve used the shortened form because my reader doesn’t need the full title to make sense of the point about staying hydrated. I’ll give the full title in my works cited list (aka bibliography) at the end of this post.

I hope it’s obvious that we must cite direct quotations; we’re using someone else’s words, so we need to indicate that to our readers.

We also need to cite all paraphrased or summarised passages – in these, we use our own words, but someone else’s ideas and must give them credit.[1]

Finally, remember that it is possible to plagiarise yourself. If all of your work is self-published, this isn’t likely to cause any problems. However, if you publish something through a traditional publishing house or in a collection for which someone else owns the copyright, it could become an issue.

Works cited

Baty, Chris. No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days (Chronicle Books, 2014).

Gov.uk. ‘Intellectual Property and Your Work’, https://www.gov.uk/intellectual-property-an-overview


[1] When you paraphrase a part of a text, you change the words and sentence structure but include all of the detail. When you summarise a text, your summary is in your own words and it only includes the main points.

Planning will help you make the best of a stressful situation

In this blog, I usually discuss aspects of writing your books and why you need to write your books, but given the disruption caused by Covid-19, I thought it would be useful to discuss planning other sorts of writing.

Business owners often underestimate how much writing they have to do just to keep their businesses going: newsletters, blog posts, social media posts, and the list goes on. Because we underestimate how very much writing we need to do, we also underestimate how much time we need to set aside to do it. Consequently, we fall behind on our planned writing and keep dreaming of a perfect time when we can catch up and develop new, better writing habits.

All of the posts I’ve seen from people planning to get ahead on writing for their businesses while they’re self-isolating has made this clearer than ever.

Seeing extra time at home as extra time to work on and in your business is wonderful. And it’s one of the few positives we can find in the exceedingly odd situation in which we’ve found ourselves.

The problem with this is that the grand plans I’ve seen people post about are painfully reminiscent of those academics post at the start of each summer break. So, in this post, I’m going to offer some advice to keep you from getting to July and wondering where the time went and why you don’t seem to have written anything.

Be realistic

I know it’s tempting to think something like this: ‘I’m going to be at home for about 90 days–I’ll write a blog post each day and have enough for weekly posts well into next year.’

Since the average blog post is only going to be about 1000 words, the idea of writing a post in a day isn’t in itself unreasonable. The problem is that planning to do this every day for 90 days assumes that you’re going to be as fit and well (both physically and mentally) on day 80 of isolation as you are on day 1. It also assumes that everyone you live with and/or care about will also be as consistently fit and well.

That’s not how life works in your average summer break, and it’s certainly not how it works during a pandemic.

When you make your realistic plan, you need to plan to be kind to yourself and to plan for flexibility.

The biggest problem with the 90 posts in 90 days plan is that if you fail to write post 12 because you have a headache, you may never write posts 13, 14, … When we take an all or nothing approach, we tend to do nothing.

So, what should you do? Scale down your plans. If you plan to write for a few hours a week, you’re far less likely to be disappointed. In the weeks in which you’re feeling healthy and finding it easy to focus, write more–you’ll be chuffed that you did a little extra. In the weeks when you’re finding it hard going, cut yourself some slack.

What would a realistic plan look like?

If you normally write one blog post per week, but are going to have a bit more time now, it could look like this:

  • week 1: write and publish post 1, draft posts 2 and 3
  • week 2: edit and publish post 2, edit and schedule post 3, draft post 4
  • week 3: edit and schedule post 4, draft posts 5 and 6
  • and so on

As you can see, if you continued this pattern for a few weeks, you’d get a little ahead of the game, without putting too much pressure on yourself to produce a publishable post every day. Also, when you edit and schedule your posts, you can write and schedule your social media posts and newsletters about the new blog post. This way, you’ll have a well-stocked feed even if your health forces you to step back from your business for a couple of weeks.

Make your plans reality

It’s all well and good making plans, and some of you will really enjoy scheduling writing time in your diary or your favourite digital planner. But you need to find ways to make your plans actually happen.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is to plan your writing rewards in advance. To find out more about how rewards help, read this post: Reward Yourself for Writing.

It’s also helpful to track your writing in a way that makes sense for you. Some of you will find my writing tracker helpful; you’ll find a link for it at the end of this post: Track Your Writing Habit. Others will prefer simply ticking off each scheduled task in your diary. Do what works for you.

Enlist some help

Finally, if you need some help to meet your writing goals (and to make sure they’re reasonable and achievable), enlist some. What this looks like will depend on your individual circumstances.

If you have a friend in similar circumstances, you can be accountability buddies and help each other achieve your goals.

If you do better with more formal coaching, you can hire me to help you. I’m currently offering a 4-week coaching package to help business owners keep on top of and get ahead on their normal business-related writing. You can find more details and sign up here.

Who is your ideal reader?

Why do you need to identify her?

If you know who your ideal reader is, it will be easier to write your book. Writing to a person is always easier than writing to an ‘audience’. Also, knowing some specifics about your reader will help you decide what to include and what to leave out.

For example, if your book is about coping with a chronic condition like type-1 diabetes, how you discuss the topic will change depending on the audience. A book for a newly diagnosed child will be very different in tone and scope to one for that child’s parent, an adult living with diabetes, or a health professional working with diabetes patients.

Nevertheless, books for these four very different audiences will have some similarities. It’s likely they’ll all discuss controlling blood sugar through diet and exercise, as well as managing the condition through medication. The differences will be in how these topics are addressed – are they explained in terms appropriate to an eight-year-old or a hospital consultant?

Returning to your ideal reader, you need to think about what she wants and needs from your book. To that end, consider questions like the following:

  • Does she know next to nothing about your field, or is she a fellow practitioner?
  • How is she likely to use your book? Is it an instruction manual she can use for reference, or does she need to read the whole thing? Or is it somewhere in between? (My book There’s a Book in Every Expert (May 2020) is in between; it’s detailed enough to serve as an introductory text, but the chapter titles and subheadings make it easy to find particular topics.)
  • Is your book likely to be a complement to other books she has on your topic? Or is it the only one in the field? (If it’s the latter, is it really? Check a good search engine to be sure.)

As you can see just from these questions, identifying your ideal reader goes a long way towards helping you decide on the scope, content, and tone of your book.

If you’re producing an instruction manual for a fellow practitioner, she likely already has a good set of reference works in your field, so your book would need to be a user-friendly reminder of how to do particular things. By ‘user friendly’, I mean that it would need to be organised in a way that makes finding particular sections easy. If she has to read (or reread) 100 pages to find the answer to a question, she’s going to get irritated.

However, if you’re writing an introductory book for someone new to the field, you’ll need to be more comprehensive. This will mean taking the time to define terms specialists would take for granted, and it will probably mean including plenty of narrative examples.

Think back to our hypothetical book on diabetes; a consultant does not need (or want) you to discuss how insulin controls blood sugar, but an eight-year-old child has likely never thought about sugar in any form except sweets and doesn’t know what insulin is.

Now that you’re convinced you need to identify your ideal reader, how do you do it?

How do you identify her?

You’ve likely come across business development exercises on identifying your ideal paying client. Your ideal reader has a lot in common with your ideal client, but the groups are not necessarily identical.

For starters, your ideal client has to be able to afford your course or hourly rate – this is likely a much bigger financial commitment than the price of a book.

This is not to say that only those who can’t afford your primary coaching or healing services will buy your book. Your readers may be, or may become, your clients. But your readers don’t have to be as committed to working with you when they purchase your book as your clients do when they purchase a coaching package or course.

So, your ideal reader will be interested in learning what it’s like to work with you. Your current clients likely share this interest, but they may or may not feel the need to buy and read your book.

As in the exercises you’ve probably done on identifying your ideal client (sometimes called customer avatar), you need to think about who she is and answer questions like the following:

  • How old is she?
  • Does she have a family?
  • What does she do for a living?
  • What are her interests?
  • Where does she hang out on social media?
  • Where does she hang out in real life?
  • What does she do for fun?
  • What are her dreams?
  • What are her fears?
  • What does she look like?
  • What is her name?

Write your answers down. If you’re artistic, draw a picture of her or make a collage or vision board that represents her personality and interests.

However you choose to document your idea of your ideal reader, keep it to hand. When you start writing your book it will be easier to write to a person, than to write to a faceless reader.

What does writing to a particular reader look like?

It looks exactly like this post. Since it’s really clunky (and irritating) to write about how anyone could write anything, I’ve focused this post on helping writers who are writing books for women.

Does this mean it’s not useful to any other sort of writer? No. What it means is that having an ideal reader in mind allowed me to make this post suitably focused.

Top 5 Myths that Are Stopping You from Writing Your Credibility Building Book

Most coaches and healers know they need to write their credibility building book so they can connect with potential clients in a helpful and authentic way to grow their businesses. However, too many of you are held back by these myths.

Myth 1: I’m not really an expert

I hear this a lot. If you are helping your clients, you’re an expert. You don’t have to be the expert (whatever that means) to write your book. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In her foreword to my forthcoming book, There’s a Book in Every Expert, Lauryn Bradley writes: ‘If people are interested in your business, your products, and your services, then they are already interested in YOU. Own that expertise with pride and celebrate it.’ I asked Lauryn to write the foreword because she both knows how to build successful businesses and how to write successful business books; she’s the author of Grow Your Tribe (if you haven’t read it, you really need to).

It’s time to start believing in what you do and to start writing your credibility building book.

Myth 2: But I don’t have a system; I just help people.

This one always confuses me. I’m thrilled you don’t have a system you put clients through the way widgets go through factory machines. People are not uniform products, so solutions to their problems or challenges shouldn’t be either.

If you don’t have a system, what do you have? You’ve likely noticed some similarities in how your clients talk about the issues they come to you with, and you’ve probably developed a whole host of tools for helping them. Your book isn’t supposed to provide a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s supposed to give your readers a clear idea of how you work with people. They will benefit from some of the advice and examples you use in the book, and then some of them will come to you for further help.

You don’t need a system; use your book to show people how you can help them.

Myth 3: I don’t have time.

You almost certainly do have time. Writing a book doesn’t require you to retreat to your office for weeks at a time. Instead it requires you to commit to developing a plan and to finding a couple of 10- to 30- minute chunks of time for writing most days. Your business is worth making those commitments.

You do have time.

Myth 4: I’m not good at writing – my teachers always said so at school.

Overcoming the damage done by, often well-meaning, educators is difficult. The important things to remember here are 1) you’re not at school anymore, and 2) your former teachers are probably not your target audience.

If you can talk about how you help your clients, you can write about it. Are you magically going to be endowed with perfect grammar and punctuation? Of course not. But you’re not at school, and no one is marking your work – you’re not only allowed to hire someone to edit your work, you’re encouraged to do so.

If you can say it, you can write it.

Myth 5: No one would read it.

At the risk of sounding rude: Nonsense!

Your current clients will want to read it because it will give them 24/7 access to your views and insights. They’ll recommend it to their friends because it will show their friends why they recommend working with you. Potential clients will want to read it because it will help them decide whether or not you’re a good fit for them. Finally, people who want to work with you, but can’t afford to right now, will want to read it so they can start learning from you at a price point they can afford.

Lots of people want to read your book.

Free download to get you started

Now that you’re convinced you can and need to write your book, download Get Clear on Your Book Topic in 3 Easy Steps. You’ll need to set aside about an hour to complete the exercises for focusing your topic. These are the first 3 exercises in my 6-month course, There’s a Book in Every Expert, which is based on my book by the same name (the book will be out in May 2020).