Do you know enough to write a book?

Would-be authors ask me whether they know enough to write a book all the time. It’s in the top 3 concerns people have about writing a book – right up there with ‘do I have time?’ and ‘what will people think?’

But here, I want to focus on the first question – ‘do I know enough?’ Writers who doubt their knowledge tend use a handful of common myths as ‘proof’ that they’re right: the myths of the magical qualification, The Expert, and the obvious. Below, I’ll address these in turn before looking at what you actually need to know to write a book.

The myth of the magical qualification

When I’m talking to a writer who doubts her own knowledge, the first bit of ‘proof’ she offers is often that she hasn’t completed this, that, or the other extra qualification. By extra, I mean over an above the qualifications you need to help your clients solve the problem you specialise in safely and responsibly.

I’m here to tell you that there is no magical qualification that banishes self-doubt. I have a PhD, and I still sometimes struggle with self-doubt.

Examine the qualification you’ve told yourself you need and get really clear (crystal clear) on why you think you need it and what it will actually do for you, your clients, and your ability to write your book. Then pause to make sure you’re not engaging in magical thinking – expecting that diploma or qualification to suddenly and permanently make you feel like an expert.

If you get good results for your clients and you understand how you get those results, you’re an expert. Lor Bradley discusses this issue in her foreword to my book.

The myth of ‘The Expert’

The next bit of ‘proof’ writers usually give for explaining why they don’t know enough to write their book is that someone else knows more than they do.

That will almost always be the case. To write your book, you need to be an expert, not the expert.

You don’t have to know absolutely everything there is to know about your subject to write a book that will help people and help them learn how you work. You need to know more than the people you’re helping, not more than all the other experts in your field.

Your book probably isn’t aimed at the other experts. They might read it, and they’ll almost certainly learn something because they haven’t thought about things from your perspective, but don’t trap yourself into thinking you have to be able to teach them anything.

Instead, focus on reaching your clients and others like them. That’s the purpose of your book and where you’ll find your confidence as a writer.

When comparisonitis sets in, remind yourself of two things:

  1. True experts are the first to acknowledge they still have much to learn, and
  2. Your book is joining a larger conversation; it’s not trying to be the final word on your subject.

People, both laypeople and experts, will read your book because they want to know your take on things – you are uniquely qualified to give them that.

The myth of the obvious

When you’ve been doing something for a long time, it’s easy to forget that you haven’t always known how to do it. When we forget that, we dismiss how much we know and fall into the habit of thinking that what we do ‘naturally’ is obvious to everyone.

It’s not. There’s nothing natural or obvious about what you do to someone who doesn’t have your experience and qualifications.

To show you how this works, I’ll tell you a little story. Years ago, a friend came over to my flat after she’d had a fight with her partner. We talked and she was feeling better, but didn’t want to go home, so I decided to cook us dinner.

This was unplanned and I hadn’t been to the shop in about a week, so it was going to be a culinary adventure. My friend is a vegetarian, so I decided on vegetable soup. While she sat in the kitchen with a glass of wine, I started rummaging through my fridge, freezer, and pantry, pulling out vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Then I stared chopping things and throwing them in the pot while we chatted. A little while later, the soup was done, and we ate. It was just soup made of odds and ends, but she was amazed.

I hadn’t realised that she didn’t cook. She asked for the recipe and was shocked when I told her there wasn’t one. I wrote down what I’d done as best I could, but I hadn’t measured anything, so it really wasn’t a recipe.

I thought what I’d done was obvious and natural, but really, I was only able to do it because I’d been cooking for years – sometimes following recipes, but more often using them as inspiration.

Think about how this relates to how you help your clients. Established coaches usually don’t follow the step-by-step instructions they were given during training. Instead they ‘sense’ what each client needs and deliver that in the best way for the situation. There’s nothing natural or obvious about this – it’s all based on experience and training.

Bringing it all together

What these myths all boil down to is fear. Fear that you don’t know enough to come up with enough words to fill a book, or fear that what you write is so well known, it will be useless.

When people worry they don’t know enough to fill a book, they’re not thinking about explaining what they do and why they do it to someone who’s not in their heads. I could easily get a couple thousand words out of explaining how I made that soup for my friend.

To explain it to someone who doesn’t cook, it’s not enough to say sauté the onions, then add the garlic, carrots, and celery. Why is that not enough? Because a novice in the kitchen won’t know what sauté means, neither will she know that onions need to cook longer to bring out their flavour or that garlic needs less time because it’s likely to burn.

You see, for my friend to understand how to make odds and ends soup, she doesn’t need a recipe, she needs to understand my process: both what I did and why I did it that way.

Your readers aren’t looking for a recipe; they want to understand your process. They want to learn about what you do and about how you think. They want to get to know you, and some of them will go on to want to work with you.

If you need help embracing your expertise, join me in my free workshop series next week. It all kicks off on 4 October and you can join here.