Quick fix pitfalls for authors

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ve seen a lot from me about how to make writing easier and how to keep your book from taking over your life. What you haven’t seen is any discussion of quick fixes. Why? Read on to find out all about the pitfalls of quick fixes for authors.

I’m sure that if you’ve searched Google or social media for anything related to writing, you’ve seen loads of ads about quick fixes from other providers. In this post, I’m going to talk about the potential pitfalls of two of these: ultra-short book writing programmes and ghost writers.

Writers turn to these kinds of quick fixes out of frustration. But in life as in business, taking the easy way and opting for the quick fix is rarely as rewarding as doing it the right way.

Quick fix 1: Ultra-short programmes

Maybe it’s just my feed and the algorithm’s response to my search history, but ‘write and publish your book in a weekend’ courses seem to be popping up everywhere.

These are great for making the point that writing your book doesn’t have to take ages, but if you write and publish your book in a weekend, you’re unlikely to present your business in a good light.

Why? Good writing requires thinking and editing. Thinking and editing require time. Also, you should never publish anything that hasn’t been proofread by a professional.

Hopefully it’s clear how publishing rushed writing that hasn’t been polished by a professional is problematic. Books written and published this way are likely to be full of typos and awkward sentences.

You may now be thinking, ‘but I’m sure I’ve seen you argue we should write our first drafts as quickly as possible’. You’re right. I do advocate writing your first draft quickly. But I’d never advocate publishing that draft.

The second pitfall of these book-in-a-weekend courses is less obvious, but no less important. Rushing through your writing denies you the chance for growth that a longer writing process would give you.

Since this is also a pitfall of hiring a ghost writer, I’ll discuss it in more detail in the final section of this post.

Quick fix 2: Ghost writers

The idea of hiring a professional writer to write your book is appealing, and it does avoid the first pitfall of the book-in-a-weekend courses.

A good ghost writer will deliver a coherent, polished manuscript.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that even the best ghost writer won’t be able to perfectly embody your voice.

Why is that a problem?

One of the main reasons businessowners write books is to establish their expertise with potential clients. If a would-be client reads your ghost-written book, gets excited about what you offer, and books a call with you, they’ll feel a disconnect between the ‘voice’ in your book and the voice on the call.

Most readers won’t be able to consciously identify this disconnect. Nevertheless, it’s enough to cause them to distrust you. Thus undoing all the know, like, and trust your book had built.

Clearly, sowing distrust amongst potential clients is the very opposite of what you want to do. There’s no point spending a lot of money having a book written that reduces your conversion rate.

As I indicated above, the other pitfall of hiring a ghost writer is that it denies you the opportunity to grow from the writing experience, which I’ll turn to now.

How the writing process will improve your life and coaching

When you resist the quick fix and take the time to write and edit your book, you’ll spend quite a few hours in the company of your thoughts. During this time, you’ll be writing about your coaching practice while having to coach yourself through the writing.

I should note here that I’m using the umbrella term coach to refer to all the ‘helping’ professions. These include consultants, speakers, mentors, and healers.

As you write your book about how you help your clients one of two things will happen. Either you’ll allow yourself to struggle on the days the words don’t come easily, until you decide to use the techniques you teach on yourself. Or you’ll consciously coach yourself from the beginning and avoid any prolonged periods of struggle.

Both outcomes are valuable (and neither is available when you opt for the quick fix). Why? Because they teach you to recognise when you need coaching and which techniques work for particular situations. This experience can’t help but make you a better and more compassionate person and coach.

It will improve your understanding of your relationship with yourself. It’ll also improve your ability to empathise with others.

The process will remind you of things you know, on one level, but all too often forget to apply to yourself. For example, you relearn that if you ‘need’ to clean and tidy the house before you sit down to write even for ten minutes, you’re not avoiding the writing. You’re feeling anxious about it.

These are things we often recognise in others, like our clients. But we rarely recognise them in ourselves or those closest to us. When the anxiety-induced avoidance activity happens too close to home, we tend to respond with frustration.

However, the rather meta experience of coaching yourself through writing about coaching will make you more self-aware. It will also make you more likely to respond to yourself and your nearest and dearest with the compassion you show your clients.

If you rush the writing process with a quick fix like a book-in-a-weekend course or miss it altogether by hiring a ghost writer, you do yourself, your coaching practice, and your book a disservice. Your second draft is better than your first both because you’ve edited out the errors and because you are different and more aware after doing so.

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



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How Freewriting Can Make You a Fast and Fearless Writer

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?

Download your copy of the Freewriting Guide here. This one-page PDF will help you remember how to make the most of your freewriting sessions!