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 3-day course to get you started
Now that you’re convinced you can and need to write your book, sign up for my free 3-day e-coaching course. You’ll need to set aside about 15 minutes a day for 3 days 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).
Click below to sign up for the e-course! I look forward to learning more about how you help your clients.
It’s easier to write when you write regularly. I’m not suggesting you ignore all of your other commitments to spend hours at your keyboard every day. That’s actually not very productive or pleasant.
What works, in this case, happens to be what’s easier: writing little and often. Commit to writing for at least 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
That may not sound like much, but you’ll be much more productive in a handful of small, focused sessions, than you’d ever be in a mammoth-sized binge writing session.
After you’ve written for 15 minutes, if you feel like it and your schedule allows, write some more. If you’re busy or you’re just not feeling it that day, put it aside.
You can put it aside guilt free because you’ve kept your commitment to yourself to write for 15 minutes.
There are two PDF calendars you can use to track your writing practice in the Resource Library. One is full colour and is probably best for tracking on your computer; the other has minimal colour and will be best for those who want to print a copy.
As with every other habit you’ve ever tried to build, you’ll be more motivated if you track it and see your progress. On your days off, don’t feel bad about not writing; instead, celebrate by doing something that will energise you for writing later in the week or the following week!
We, as humans, respond well to definite, positive rewards. I know of a writer who lines up their favourite sweets on the desk and they get one for every 100 words they write. Another buys a couple of decadent truffles from a local chocolatier every Friday if they met their goal to write for at least 15-minutes a day, Monday to Friday.
Meanwhile, others prefer larger goals such as a nice dinner out with their partner upon submitting an article or a weekend away for submitting a book proposal.
I don’t see why you should have to choose between small and large rewards. Consider how much happier you would be if you gave yourself little rewards on a regular basis for what you had accomplished and bigger rewards for meeting bigger targets.
Rewards to consider
Below is a list of inexpensive, sugar-free (or at least low sugar) rewards to consider:
Make a cup of tea (or coffee) in your favourite mug and sit somewhere comfortable without distractions and just enjoy drinking it.
If the weather’s nice, go for a walk – bonus points if you can walk somewhere pretty like a park or the beach. Spending time in natural surroundings will do more to recharge you for whatever the rest of your day brings.
Watch a favourite movie or TV show (no guilt allowed; you’ve earned the break).
Read a book for fun.
Call a friend or meet up for coffee.
Play with your kids, dog, cat, …
Take the time to cook and eat a proper meal – one during which you don’t try to multi-task by working and that you don’t rush through, so you can get back to work.
Take a nice hot bath.
Have a nap, go to bed early, or sleep in a little in the morning.
However you choose to reward yourself, make sure it’s a conscious choice and that you take a moment to connect the nice thing you’re doing for yourself with the writing goals you’ve met. The more often you associate rewards with making progress on your writing, the more you’ll want to write.
Take some time to consider how you’ll reward yourself. Below, you’ll find a two-page PDF — one page on which I suggest things to reward yourself for and a blank page for you to fill in as you wish. Have fun!
What kind of snack will beat writer’s block you ask? After all, we’ve all tried chocolate, biscuits, crisps, and endless pots of tea to no avail. The snack we’re after is snack writing. Sorry if you were hoping for a magical brownie recipe.
What is it?
Snack writing, as opposed to binge writing, is a short writing session. When we snack write regularly, we tend not to experience writer’s block.
This is similar to eating snacks. When you eat little and often, you don’t become ravenously hungry or get headaches caused by low blood sugar or any of the other nasty things that being overly hungry can cause.
The number one cause of writer’s block is that overly critical voice in your head. Snack writing keeps it quiet.
It starts to work immediately. When you sit down to write for ten minutes, it’s easy to tell the voice to hush for a bit because it doesn’t believe you’re going to publish anything you write in such a short space of time.
It works better as you go on. When you develop a habit of snack writing, your voice gets used to keeping quiet. See, as annoying as that voice is, it’s really only trying to protect you. Once it sees that you can write for a few minutes without its input and nothing bad happens, it will trust you to carry on.
After all, that voice doesn’t get in the way of you doing any other mundane, routine things like cleaning your teeth, making a cuppa, or taking out the bins, does it? Once writing is a habit, it will be as stress free as those other things you do all the time without stress.
How can you develop the habit?
Set a goal and track it! You’ll find a free writing tracker in the Resource Library. As with any other habit–engaging in it will make you want more of it, so get writing!
Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing the first draft of a book about writing a book about your business. As I was preparing to print the first draft so I could start revisions, it struck me that reading this excerpt sooner rather than later could save some of you from a future headache.
Practise safe writing
Imagine having written 20,000 words of your book, saving it on your laptop, and having your laptop stolen. Alternatively, imagine finishing your first draft, saving it, and coming back to it the next day to find that your computer won’t turn on at all.
I know writers who have had such experiences. To keep you from having to add your name to the list of the unfortunate, I want you to put some healthy habits in place before you start writing. In this chapter I’ll address how to keep both hard copies and digital copies safe.
Protecting paper copies
Many writers still write their drafts out longhand before they type them up. For some people this both frees and focuses the mind. If you are one of these people, carry on, but take some precautions.
Risks to paper
Massively destructive fires are, thankfully, less common than they used to be. But they aren’t unheard of. For a few pounds, you can get a small fire safe in which to keep your completed manuscript pages/notebooks.
Don’t store your manuscript on the first floor if your house is prone to flooding. Also, don’t store it in the bathroom or kitchen (I’m not sure why anyone would, but stranger things have happened).
Water and paper are not good friends. Water and ink get on less well. Try to choose a pen that doesn’t run when it gets wet.
Okay, maybe not wild animals, but pets can wreak havoc with your paper manuscript. When she was younger, my cat took great pleasure in sliding my papers around the flat. Now, she takes pleasure in chewing on them. Keep an eye on your pets, and keep your papers out of reach.
If you have children, until they are old enough to understand that they mustn’t touch your papers, keep them well out of reach. You don’t want to come home to find that chapter one has been used for your little one’s latest masterpiece, or to find that they’ve smeared the carrot they weren’t happy about at lunch all over the first page.
Backing up your work
Backing up a hard copy requires more work on your part than backing up digital copies. I recommend you do all of these:
Get in the habit of photocopying, scanning, or photographing new pages as you produce them.
If you choose to scan or photograph them, skip to the next section.
If you choose to photocopy your manuscript, keep a copy in your firesafe.
In addition to this, at least once a month, take a second copy to store somewhere else – at a trusted friend’s house, in your office (assuming you don’t work at home), or in a safe deposit box at the bank.
You may think these suggestions are extreme, especially the safe deposit box, but think about how you’d feel if you lost your whole book before you could type it up and publish it. That would mean throwing dozens, if not hundreds, of hours away because you didn’t take the time to back up your work.
Protecting digital copies
We’ll start with how to keep it safe while you’re actually writing and work forward from there. We all know that the main risks to a digital copy are failure to save, virus infection, and power surges. Install good virus protection software and use a surge protector. For everything else, read on.
Autosave is your friend
Word has an autosave function. If you’re typing your manuscript in Word, click on File à Options àSave and then choose 1 minute for how often you want autosave to save your document. If you use another kind of software, it is worth your while to check whether it has a similar function.
Hard save regularly
If you haven’t already, you’ll soon learn that I don’t trust computers. In addition to using autosave, get in the habit of manually saving your document at least once an hour. Doing this will massively increase your chance of saving everything should there be a power surge, or should your computer take a funny turn.
Save to a flash drive and/or email yourself a copy
At least once a week, save a copy of your manuscript to a flash drive and/or email it to yourself. I suggest doing both just to be absolutely certain you don’t lose anything. If you don’t email it to yourself, make sure you keep your flash drive in a different building than the one you keep your computer in. You could also consider saving a copy in Google Docs – since that is not saved on your computer, so long as you don’t get locked out of your Google account, you’ll be able to access it.
Invest in the Cloud
Saving everything to the cloud is affordable and easy. If you didn’t buy the cloud backup package when you bought your computer, now is the time to look into it.
Print a copy
At the end of each draft, I strongly recommend that you print a copy and ask a trusted friend to keep it or store it in your office if your office is not in your home. As I said above, I don’t trust computers. Also, I recognise the fragility of paper. Printing a copy, in addition to the other steps, almost guarantees that you will have a copy somewhere. Though computers sometimes seem to have minds of their own, paper always behaves as you expect it to.
If you’ve finished reading this and you think I’m just being alarmist, ignore this advice at your own risk. Losing your book draft is much worse than losing your homework or even a term paper could possibly be.
I have decided to start inviting guest posts when someone has something to share that will help you become better, happier writers.
The first such post is by Sarah Boak, who is a health and wellness writer at Whole Health Thriving. Sarah has kindly shared a post about how listen to your body and keep physically fit despite all your hours at the keyboard.
The Embodied Writer, by Sarah Boak
As writers, we can often feel like heads on sticks. Our focus is on the mental world, where the cognitive tussles of structure, logic, and creativity take priority, and the body is easily forgotten. Yet as writing is such a desk-based, sedentary pursuit, it’s vital that to stay healthy we become more embodied in our writing practice. But how to do this, when it seems that the very conditions of our occupation limit our opportunities for physical movement?
I’m now a health and wellness writer, but previously was a part-time PhD candidate (for almost a decade), and an academic for some years during and following. As such, I had spent a significant amount of time chained to my desk before I became interested in exercise and wellbeing. As I approached middle-age, I started to realise how unhealthy I had become, and how my body felt creaky, inflexible, and sore. Coming to this realisation, I needed to find something that would motivate me to do something about it. But how to undo many years of unhealthy habits, when sedentary work is your bread and butter?
There are different ways we can think about our health and wellbeing, and some have more benefit than others. There’s the objective route of looking at what the scientists tell us. Sitting at a desk for long hours has been clearly proven to increase health risks for conditions including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. An expert statement published in June 2015 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM)[i] collated the research to provide some guidelines for employers to help ‘curb health risks of too much sitting at work [in] the public health context of rising chronic diseases.’ Whilst we may know this objective reality, this doesn’t easily translate into action. We know drinking too much alcohol is bad for us. We know that fast food and takeaways don’t help our bodies. We are aware we are supposed to exercise to stay in good condition. Yet many of us don’t follow this advice, and bad habits become ingrained, subtly permeating our lives until we are not even aware of them.
I would suggest that there is another approach which is more motivating than following the scientific advice. It is the most practical way to boost our health and keep us investing in our physical wellbeing. It’s an awareness-based approach, often linked to mindfulness and meditation practices. It’s called ‘embodiment’. Mark Walsh, Director and Co-lead Trainer of the Embodied Facilitator Course explains embodiment as ‘the subjective, felt sense of the body inside out through awareness’.[ii] He outlines that we can become aware of our bodies, not as a separate entity but through understanding ourselves being a body, through practices of ‘awareness, attention, intention, posture, movement [and] breathing’. In this way we connect with a sense of our whole selves. Here, ‘Sarah Boak’ as a writer exists not only in the mental realm, where I fashion these words, or just through my fingers that are tapping on this keyboard, but as a whole-body experience. It is possible for me to notice my feet on the floor and the sensations therein, whilst writing. I can bring attention to the speed and regularity of my breathing. I can notice that other parts of my body move a little whilst typing – shoulders up and down, arms and elbows out a little, through the mechanics of keying in words. This kind of attention to our bodies in daily life gives us a huge amount of information about ourselves. It encourages us to be in relationship with our whole being. This perhaps sounds a little woo woo and ‘New Age’, but it’s fundamental in order to be a full, healthy and happy human.
Bringing attention to ourselves holistically is the springboard to change. I feel a twinge in my back, and so I adjust my posture. I notice that I get out of breath more easily going upstairs, so I factor in more exercise to attend to that. I take time in my day to just be with my breathing and to relax my muscles. I use embodied yoga postures to have a sense of how I’m feeling emotionally, through my physical practice. As Mark Walsh says, embodiment ‘brings choice’. Having deeper knowledge of ourselves, we can make wiser choices to support our full health – body, mind, and emotions.
To bring a more embodied approach to your life takes only some simple beginning steps, and you need little or no equipment to do so. Here are some tips for beginning:
Befriend your breath
Paying attention to your breath is helpful because it is an anchor that is always with you. An easy way to begin is to start when you first sit down to write. Give yourself ‘breathing space’ to notice the in breath and notice the out breath, without trying to change them. Close your eyes for an extra sense of how your internal world is. Once you’ve connected to your breath, and spent a little time with it, you might notice a natural sense of calm. It’s easy then to take your attention to the rest of your body, scanning through with awareness to any points of tension or pain, and trying to bring some relaxation there. This process only needs to take a few minutes, but it will set up your writing period with a sense of body awareness.
Regular movement at your desk Yoga teacher Adriene – whose videos have been watched millions of times on YouTube – encourages her students to ‘find what feels good’. Through your day, whilst you’re writing, build in little pockets of movement to explore this maxim. By setting a timer – I use the ‘Stand Up!’ app on iPhone, but you can use anything, including the one on your cooker – we can make sure to stand up and move about regularly. Find what your body likes. Do you want to move your hips in a figure of eight? Does bending down to touch your toes feel good? Stretching the arms overhead like a morning stretch? Move in a way that feels good and necessary, to really begin the process of bringing greater awareness to your body.
Standing desks are another way to combat the sedentary writer’s life. Although research has shown that just standing by itself isn’t enough to combat the issues with a sedentary life,[iii] it’s certainly important to keep standing regularly. Shift the height of your desk if you can – move from sitting to standing where possible. Use devices like an Apple Watch, which will nudge you each hour if you haven’t stood up.
If you’re concerned about the impact that regular movement will have on the flow of your writing, then leave your sentence unfinished to give you an easy route back into your flow.
Walking and other exercise pursuits
Factor in short periods of exercise into your day and aim for increased frequency rather than longer sessions. Three ten-minute brisk walks through the day – one in the morning, one at lunch, and one post-work – are much more beneficial than a lazy 30-minute post-work amble. The writer’s mind benefits from time alone to ponder, and walking is an excellent pursuit for the development of creative ideas, as Merlin Coverly’s 2012 book The Art of Wandering: The writer as walker suggests. On a walk, there is time for our ideas to percolate and co-mingle. Not only does our mental world benefit, but in walking, we connect our mental awareness with our body awareness. It’s the perfect holistic embodied pursuit for writers, and it’s of great cardiovascular value.
In terms of other kinds of exercise, one of the approaches I have taken is to have a stationary exercise bike just behind my chair. If I have a video to watch, as part of my research for a piece, I’ll hop onto the bike whilst I watch it. If it’s a short video I’ll up my cycling pace and do a sprint, a longer one and I’ll alternate sprinting and a more regular pace. Again, here I notice my overall embodied experience – where is my limit and do I want to challenge myself? How am I breathing, and what is my heart rate like? I use exercise as a way to better know myself. I also understand my tendencies of procrastination and physical sedentariness – my preference for sitting – but try to think more broadly about what my body needs.
Stretching for writers
The body loves to move, and once we bring more embodied awareness, we realise just how many ways the body can move. Yoga stretches can be very beneficial to writers. The upper body often feels like it needs particular attention – the wrists, arms, and shoulders – but in actuality the whole body can benefit. Simple exercises like rolling the shoulders up and back (then reverse), rotating the wrists in both directions, and standing and circling the hips first clockwise and then anticlockwise, could be a simple part of each writing session. This limbers us up before we sit to write, and can also be done at the end of our work period.
Yoga poses to try are a seated twist, where you sit cross-legged with an upright spine and place the left hand on the right knee, the right hand behind you on the floor. The standing pose Tadasana – or mountain pose – is both grounding and elongating, with a sense of energy lifting the body upwards at the same time as the feet are firmly connected to the floor. From here – with the arms down by our sides – we may enjoy sweeping the arms upwards in a wide arc, palms meeting in the middle above the head. We can gaze up at our hands, and perhaps if it feels comfortable lift the chin so there is a small back bend. Then bring the palms down in front of our heart in a pose of prayer. In this posture we can connect with a sense of intention both for our embodied practice, and for our writing. Other more advanced poses include bridge pose, which opens the chest, shoulders and hip flexors and feels great after a session in front of a laptop, and any of the lunge or warrior poses which stretch the legs and hips out. Websites such as Yoga Journal[iv] provide easy to understand pose libraries for even the beginner yogi.
The embodied writer is one who really understands that this wonderful occupation is richer and more enjoyable when we include our full selves – our physicality, our emotions and our mental capacity all come together to support our craft. Paying attention to our body will only heighten our wellbeing and our ability to bring ourselves more deeply into our present experience.
In my previous post, I discussed how to craft a thesis statement. If you have yours to hand, get it out—you’ll need it for your outline. If you haven’t written one yet, reread the previous post and write one.
Once you have a thesis, you’re ready to outline. Before I continue, I should confess that I’ve never been the kind of writer who uses detailed outlines. At school when the outline was part of the assessment, I usually wrote my paper first and then reverse engineered the outline.
Since training as a writing teacher, I’ve come to appreciate the utility of a rough outline, but still don’t create highly detailed outlines. If you’re interested in creating a more detailed outline than what I’ll walk you through in this post, please do. Many people find them useful, if you’re one of them, enjoy. In the conclusion, I explain how to use this method to create a more detailed outline.
In my post on freewriting, I discussed how to use freewriting to get going in your writing. It’s just as useful for your outline. So, set a timer for 10 minutes and write (without stopping) about your thesis statement. Don’t judge what you write, just write whatever comes to mind when you think about your thesis. You’ll likely write some combination of phrases, rough sentences, and questions.
When the timer goes off, reread what you’ve written and underline or highlight anything that stands out as particularly useful. Keep these things in mind as you continue to the next step.
Write your thesis at the top of the page. Below it, you’ll write questions you need to answer in order to prove your thesis.
Let’s return to the sample thesis from the previous post: People who have pet cats tend to have lower blood pressure than those who have dogs.
How have scientists looked at the impact of spending time with animals on blood pressure in humans?
What is the evidence that spending time with animals is beneficial in terms of lowering blood pressure?
What evidence is there that dogs and cats have different impacts on blood pressure?
Have the studies controlled for people who are allergic to cats? Who are allergic to dogs? Who are allergic to both cats and dogs?
How can living with a cat be better for one’s blood pressure than living with a dog, when it has been shown repeatedly that having a dog increases one’s physical activity?
The list of questions could go on, but you get the idea.
The next step is to take each question in turn and decide whether it has a place in your piece. For example, in response to question one, you could find an article (or several articles) that discuss scientific studies of the impact of spending time with animals on blood pressure. You’d likely find that some of these looked at patient records and asked the patients to fill in a questionnaire. Thus, they’d be based on doctor recorded blood pressure readings and patients’ self-reporting about the time they spend with animals.
You would likely conclude that question 1, or rather its answer, does have a place in your piece. It is vital to your thesis that you have evidence that animals affect blood pressure. If you’re writing a longer piece, you’d likely want to consider the inherent problems in studies that rely on self-reported information – to what extent can you rely on what the patients reported about themselves? Also, if the study uses medical records collected by several physicians, can you trust that the data are consistent? Is one blood pressure machine as accurate as another? Is one physician as accurate in recording patient data as the next?
After you think this through and the additional potential questions that you need to consider, it’s time to reflect on the place of this question in your larger piece. If you’re writing a blog post or an article, this might be the only point you need, but you’d then need to revise your thesis to reflect your new focus. If you’re writing a book, the exercise of thinking through question 1 as I’ve done here has shown that question one is substantial enough to warrant having its own chapter.
You would then repeat this exercise with the remaining questions. If you find a question that just doesn’t interest you, if it’s not vital to proving your thesis, cross it out. If it is vital to your thesis, consider either tweaking your thesis so it’s not, or keeping the question you’re not wild about.
Once you’ve finished working through your questions, write a one sentence answer to each question that you are keeping on a separate sheet of paper. Then think about what order they should go in; the strength of your argument, and therefore of your piece of writing, relies on the logic of your organisation. For example, if you’re writing a book, there should be a clear, obvious reason why chapter three must come after chapter two and before chapter four.
One way to test your order, is to write each statement on a separate strip of paper, mix them up (or type them out and then alphabetise them), and ask a friend to put them in order. If your friend comes up with an order that is different to yours, discuss how you each reached the order you did. Then, decide if you want to change your order. If you don’t change it, but feel your friend has some valid points, make sure you keep those in mind as you write – you’ll need to make it clear to your reader why you’re discussing things in the order you do.
If you like more detailed outlines, repeat this process with the answers to the questions you keep – those answers are the thesis statements for your individual chapters. Your answers to your chapter thesis statements will be topic sentences for your paragraphs or, for more complex issues, your section headings (the topic for a group of paragraphs). We’ll talk about paragraphing and topic sentences next month.
In the Facebook group, let us know how this outlining technique worked for you. If you have used a different technique, share that with us too!
I’ll begin by stating the obvious; whether you’re writing a blog post, an article, or a book, you need to have a point. Now, you need to state that point in a single sentence. Writing teachers call this sentence either your thesis statement (this term is more common in the US) or your statement of argument (this one is more common in the UK). For brevity’s sake, I’ll stick with thesis statement or thesis.
You’ll use your thesis to help you outline your book. It’s also useful for writing your ‘elevator pitch’ for your book. In other words, when someone asks what your book is about, you’ll have a one sentence answer ready. If they’re interested in hearing more, then you can elaborate. If they’re not, you’ll finish your sentence before their eyes glaze over.
What makes a good thesis statement?
Your thesis needs to be arguable. So, you’re going to run into trouble if your sentence is something like the following: Some people keep cats as pets.
The problem with statements of fact (some of us do have cats as pets) is that it’s complete. There’s nothing for you to argue or prove.
However, you’d still run into problems if your thesis was like this: People who keep cats as pets are better than those who don’t.
This is arguable. However, it is not provable. On what grounds can you legitimately argue that people with cats are better than people without cats? I know lots of good, decent human beings who don’t happen to have pet cats.
A thesis that is arguable and provable might look something like this: People who have pet cats tend to have lower blood pressure than those who have dogs. This is arguable and potentially provable. If you researched the topic (I haven’t, this is just an example) you’d find scientific studies that show correlation (and possibly causation) between spending time with animals and lowering patients’ blood pressure; your job would then be proving that cats are better at lowering blood pressure than dogs.
Is a thesis for a book different than one for a blog post?
The short answer is no. For the more nuanced answer, let’s return to the previous example: People who have pet cats tend to have lower blood pressure than those who have dogs.
You could write 500 or 80,000 words on this thesis. The difference between a blog post and a book isn’t in the thesis statement, but in your treatment of the topic. A blog post would likely state the thesis, look at one or two articles that support it, and then come to a conclusion. Meanwhile, an article (of say 3,000 words) would look at a few more sources and consider at least one counter argument before the end. A book, however, would look at several sources, try to address all of the major counter arguments, and might even include a case study or two.
Once you have a thesis, what should you do with it?
When you write the introduction to whatever you’re writing (post, article, book), you need to include your thesis. Some writers begin with the thesis, while others prefer to offer some context before stating it. Which is appropriate will vary with each piece, though with a short post, you’re more likely to put it very near the beginning.
If you’re writing an article or a book, I’d suggest writing your thesis on a card and putting it on the wall above your computer or somewhere else where you’ll see it while you work. It’s easy to wander off track when you’re working on a long piece of writing. Having the thesis nearby will remind you to stay focused.
You can also use your thesis to help you with your outline, which I’ll cover in my next post.
If you’ve tried writing a thesis and you want some feedback on whether or not it’s arguable and potentially provable, pop into the Facebook group and ask for help.
You can brainstorm before you freewrite or after. I tend to brainstorm after, hence the order of these posts. When you brainstorm after you freewrite, you can start your brainstorming session with some of the words or phrases that struck you as particularly useful in your freewriting.
Wherever you place it in relation to freewriting, brainstorming at the beginning of a project is helpful whether you have too much information or too little. As you put ideas on paper (or on the screen), you’ll be able to evaluate how much you know and identify what you still need to learn. Brainstorming is also excellent for getting the creative juices flowing.
Like freewriting, brainstorming needs to happen in a judgement free zone. It also needs to happen quickly – you don’t want to get stuck in the ‘brainstorming phase’ of your project for days or weeks.
Unlike freewriting, brainstorming can take a variety of forms, have a look at the forms I’ve listed below and choose the one that appeals to you today. If that doesn’t work, keep trying different ones until you find one that does.
1. The List
This method really is as simple as it sounds. Open a new document or take out a blank sheet of paper and list topics, subtopics, or groups of words. List things like steps in a process, aspects of a problem, or attributes of what you’re writing about. Once you have several items listed, identify topics that seem to fit together and look for patterns.
Think back to English class when you learned about figures of speech. You probably remember similes – they’re comparisons using like or as.
To use similes in brainstorming fill in the blanks in one or both of these sentences with as many answers as possible:
[Your topic] is like ___________.
[Your topic] is as ______ as __________.
Example: Writing a book is like planning and cooking Christmas dinner.
Once you have several similes to choose from, highlight the one that seems like the best fit for now. Then use listing (see the above) to brainstorm the second term. For planning and cooking Christmas dinner this would include things like making the guest list, choosing a main course, setting the table and so on. Now I would spend some time thinking about how the process of planning and cooking Christmas dinner is like the process of writing a book.
This method works because it makes you think about your topic in a new way. In making comparisons between different ideas, you are thinking more creatively about your primary topic. This is important because creativity is necessary for writing, whether you’re writing a novel or an instruction manual.
3. Think Like a Journalist
Whether you’ve studied journalism or not, you likely know that most news stories need to answer the following six questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. When you’re brainstorming you can use these questions to generate a lot of ideas about your topic. Spend five minutes generating your own questions (like the ones I’ve listed below), and then spend a little time answering each one. Not all questions are created equal – spend your time and energy on the ones that quickly strike you as useful.
is your audience?
is your book about?
are you, the author?
problem does your book solve for your audience?
does your reader need to know about your topic?
does your book add to the existing body of knowledge on your topic?
in your reader’s life is your book helpful?
did you come up with your idea for the book?
did your topic become important to you? To others?
is your audience in their journey (as it relates to your topic)?
were you in your journey when you had a breakthrough?
are you trying to help your audience to go?
do you need to write this book?
does your audience need to read it?
is your topic important right now?
will your book help your audience?
add to our understanding of your topic?
does your book fit into your larger body of work?
4. Word Maps
Word maps are easier to produce on paper than on screen – you do not want to get bogged down trying to insert shapes and text into a document. These maps can take multiple forms. You can draw word clouds on a piece of paper or dry erase board:
This is probably the form you’re most familiar with. You can put your main topic in the centre and then draw lines out from the centre to the next level topic and form new webs around second tier terms if needed. You can use these maps to process the kinds of lists you produce using the first method (above), or you can use them to generate ideas from scratch. Also, don’t be afraid to use colour for different kinds of topics. For those of you who are visual learners, colour coding your word map will make it easier for you to get your creative juices flowing.
If you want to be able to quickly change the relationships between terms, write words on sticky notes and then move them around on a table or wall. If you have access to sticky notes of varying sizes, shapes, or colours, use them!
Whichever method you choose, have fun with your brainstorming. The purpose of such pre-writing activities is to get you thinking creatively about your topic. I’d love to hear more about how you like to brainstorm! Join my Facebook group and let us know: EWC Writers’ Group.
All writers fear the blank page sometimes. Freewriting helps you fill that page quickly and easily. Once you have words on the page, you can start shaping them into the final product.
What is Freewriting?
Freewriting has long been recommended by writing instructors. One of the most famous accounts of what it is and why it works is by Peter Elbow in Writing without Teachers (1973). Though this book has been around for quite a while, Elbow’s ideas still shape how we teach and think about writing now.
He describes freewriting and explains why you should do it as follows:
The most effective way I know to improve your writing is to do freewriting exercises regularly. At least three times a week. They are sometimes called “automatic writing,” “babbling,” or “jabbering” exercises. The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can’t think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write, “I can’t think of it.” Just put down something. The easiest thing is just to put down whatever is in your mind. If you get stuck it’s fine to write “I can’t think what to say, I can’t think what to say” as many times as you want; or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else. The only requirement is that you never stop. (p. 3)
It really is that simple, just write (or type) without stopping for 10 minutes. The point of freewriting is to get your ideas flowing and down on paper. It gets easier with practice, but I’d suggest following Elbow’s suggestion of starting with just 10 minutes of freewriting several times a week. Doing this will help you learn to write without the fear of making mistakes.
Remember that your freewriting is just for you. Use it to help you turn off your internal editor. I agree with Elbow when he explains that one of the most useful things about developing a freewriting practice is that it encourages us to be less critical when we’re producing new material when working on longer, more organised pieces (pp. 4–7). In other words, if you commit to freewriting several times a week (for 10 minutes each time), you’ll be less likely to suffer from writer’s block.
When should you freewrite?
If you’re working on a long piece like a book, use freewriting to help you generate ideas for each chapter or section. Likely, you won’t end up using what you write in your freewriting sessions exactly as they are, but it will get you started. It’s always easier to write once you’ve begun. So, if you begin in the judgement-free zone of freewriting, you’ll get started more quickly.
Freewriting is also useful when you get stuck on something. We’ve all been there. The writing had been going well for days, or even weeks, and then all of a sudden you feel like you’ve run out of ideas. You’ve hit a block.
This is where freewriting really comes into its own. When you’re experiencing writer’s block, I always recommend changing your writing situation (if you write on your computer, switch to pen and paper or vice versa; if you’re really stuck, switch to crayon and brightly coloured paper—you can’t judge what you write in pink crayon). Once you’ve changed where and how you write, set a timer for 10 minutes and freewrite. You may be surprised by how much you now have to say.
If you’re still stuck, take a break and do something that doesn’t require a lot of concentration like taking a walk or doing the dishes. Repetitive, nearly mindless activities have a way of breaking you out of writer’s block. Then, try freewriting again—you’ll be fast and fearless again sooner than you think!
How to use your freewriting?
Once you’ve finished freewriting, you may find that you have no desire to return to the material. That’s absolutely fine. It has served its purpose, so it doesn’t need to do anything else for you.
If, however, you find that you hit upon a turn of phrase you particularly like or that you’ve written your way out of a problem, you’ll want to hang on to it and refer to it later.
When you find a phrase or an idea in your freewriting that you like, spend some time developing it. Ask yourself questions like these:
How does it fit into your project as a whole?
How does it develop or challenge your previous thinking on the topic?
What more do you need to do to turn it into a useable (printable) passage?
Do you need to do more research? Or do you just need to polish the writing?
If you don’t often find such hidden gems in your freewriting, why not? Have you, in previous sessions, been overly critical of what you had written? Or was there something different about how you approached the exercise this time?
Click here to download your copy of the Freewriting Guide. This one-page PDF will help you remember how to make the most of your freewriting sessions!