Not a good writer? You can still write a book

I get asked to answer this question SO often: “I know a book would help my profile and open up new opportunities for my business, but how do I write a book if I’m not a good writer?”

Let me tell you a little story to answer that.

When I was in primary school I used any spare moment that I wasn’t dancing or eating or sleeping to write stories at my bedroom desk. I was obsessed with writing. I had worked hard to get my pen license and I cherished the baby blue Papermate that I was gifted when that license was mine. I wrote short stories, essays and even penned a series of poems about Oliver Twist discovering his real parents and a sister!

I wrote reams and reams of words, filling notebooks until my hand ached. I travelled into far-flung places in my mind and created such vivid characters I believed they were my friends.  A couple of my stories won prizes at local library and bookstore comps, and I was a bit of a goody-2-shoes in my English class – an A- was a fail in my books.

This writing ‘success’ continued throughout high school. The most amazing English Literature teacher introduced me to the classics in year 10 and I fell in love with him and Heathcliff (of Wuthering Heights fame) simultaneously. I was the Editor-in-Chief of our school magazine and I actually relished all the essays I was demanded to write. I was no Jane Austen though – my writing was good but not genius, and yet I still dreamed of writing for a living.

Reality hit at university however. Suddenly I was a little fish in a big pond, and whilst I was still getting great marks for my academic research writing, my creative writing floundered. I felt misunderstood and criticised by one of my teachers and I couldn’t get an A no matter how hard I tried.

That teacher crushed my big dreams of being a professional writer.

Three years backpacking around the world, writing in journals and dabbling in freelance travel writing, helped restore my faith in my ideas, but it took decades for me to come back to my dreams of writing a book. Even then, the writing wasn’t easy. I spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours polishing that book, not believing that it was ever good enough. Not trusting what I actually knew to be true and already knew intrinsically how to do.

But, the good news is, I did it. I published it. And it changed so much for me.

What I’ve realised however, is that you don’t have to be an expert linguist to be a published author. You don’t have to have received A+ in every essay you ever wrote. You don’t even have to know all the ins and outs of the crazy English language. What you DO need though, is a really great idea, a clear goal for writing the book, and the desire (and resources) to create a great product.

So, if you have rejected the idea of writing a book because you don’t think you’re a good writer, let me share some tips to help you get over yourself and write the book anyway:

#1 – Start with a clear outline.

There are two main reasons why someone struggles to keep writing their book after they’ve started. Either they don’t know their subject matter well enough, or they aren’t really clear what the point of their book is (ie. What value they want to impart to their reader). A clear outline fixes the second part of the problem and highlights the work required in the first part.

Whether you’re planning to write or dictate your book, or even hire a ghostwriter to pen it for you, you need to be super clear on what your book is about, who it’s for and what you’re going to put in each chapter. This all starts with a great outline.

Save yourself time and energy by clearly mapping out each section of the book. You don’t want to go writing slabs of words that aren’t going to end up in the book – aint no one got time for that! It can be a tricky process to organise all of your thoughts and knowledge logically. This is where a book writing coach comes in handy.

#2 – Speak it out.

If you’re really not buzzed about writing all the words, you can try speaking out your content into a recorder and have someone else transcribe it. This will get the majority of the words written for you. However, for this to be an effective process you will need a SUPER clear plan, because it’s really easy to waffle and wander when you’re speaking about a topic you know well. The key then, of course, is to make sure you have an awesome content editor on your team to help turn your spoken words into something that reads well too.  A transcription of a conversation is NOT a book manuscript.

The alternative is to hire a ghostwriter, but it’s an expensive option – upwards of A$30k for a standard non-fiction book.

#3 –Gather a great team around you

As with anything in your life or business, if you want to produce a professional product that you’re proud of, you need experts on your team. At the very least you should consider a book writing coach, an editor, a cover designer and layout designer. There are others, such as proofreaders, copywriters, publishers and marketing launch specialists who can also be called upon if your budget allows. These people will be the difference between your book looking home made and a book that looks like it could sit on the shelves of your favourite bookstore. Obviously there’s a cost attached to a team, but like most things, you get what you pay for. You will need to decide what your intention is for the book and what outcome works for your goals. My guess is that most thought leaders and business professionals want a book that is comparable or exceeds the best selling books in their industry, not something that looks like it was designed by your teenage son and printed at Officeworks.

#4 – Rally your support crew

Writing a book is a long process. I know there are some people who promise you a book in weeks, but in my opinion, if you want a book that is value-packed, error-free, well produced and something that genuinely positions you as a thought leader, you need a good six to twelve months.

That’s a long time to stay committed to a project without some support.

My husband is ridiculously supportive. He helps clear my schedule when I need time to get things done. He cheers me up when I doubt myself. He makes me cups of tea (or wine) when I need a boost. Despite this amazing level of support at home, I’ve still found that I always need additional support in the form of coaches, mentors and mastermind groups. I have a local writer’s group who are amazingly smart and supportive and I have online peers who provide accountability. Comrades-in-arms push me to be better, to elevate my performance. What’s so important about this, is that the input and commentary of people who have more experience than I do saves me time and money AND they kick my butt when I slow down or have misgivings. This accountability always gets me through slumps and ‘writer’s block’ moments.

Find your support crew, your cheerleaders.   You’ll know who they are. Don’t reach out to the Negative-Nancies or doubters though – you need people who will cheer loudly when you want to cry and who will help you get this book done!

#5 – Imperfectly done is better than perfectly undone

Let me put a caveat on this before we go too far down this path (this is a particularly sore point for me because I pride myself on my attention to detail in my own written work and that of my clients!). You should NEVER publish a book that is unedited, has undeveloped concepts, is poorly written or is not engaging. I would never advocate that. However, at some point you do have to say enough is enough and let it go. This is typically where first time authors stumble (some spend 2 and 3 times longer in the editing process than they do in the original writing process – and some never make it out of this stage!!)

Of course you want everyone to love your book, and you want to share as much brilliance as possible, but your book simply cannot include everything you know, nor should it. There will always be more research that could be done, more ideas to ponder. But you must draw a line in the sand at some point. It is basically impossible to create a ‘perfect’ book. There is always another reference that could have been used, a more succinct way to say something, or an apostrophe on the wrong side of an s.

So, again I stress, do NOT settle for something that doesn’t represent you well, but there is a point where you have to say ‘bye bye’ and send it off into the big bad world to be consumed.

#6 – The book is just the beginning

A book requires a significant commitment of time, money and energy. It’s easy to start and not finish because it is so resource intensive. The graveyard of half-done books is flourishing! So before you start writing you need a bigger goal in mind than just finishing the book.

How will this book help open doors for you? How will it heal others? How will this book grow your business? How does it position you as a thought leader? How does it increase your reach?  How are you adding to the conversation in your industry?

Whatever the bigger reason … just be sure there is one. That’s what will keep you going when you think you have no words left…that’s what will get you out of bed on the cold, dark mornings to write…that’s what will get you energised when your writing coach suggests reworking chapter 6, 7 and 8 when you thought you were done.

Your bigger reason also comes into play when you’re marketing the book. It’s actually easier to promote the ‘why’ than the book itself. The book is simply a vehicle through which you spread your big important message.

#7 – The party anchors the success

If you think you’re not a good writer, but you write a book anyway, you should be high-fiving yourself at every milestone. It’s super important to do this so that you feel you’re making headway.

There are a bunch of moments throughout the book writing journey that are worth celebrating:

  • Completing the first draft
  • Seeing the finished cover design
  • Finalising the manuscript
  • Having the first proof in your hands
  • Opening your first box of books
  • Signing your first book
  • Selling your first copy
  • Having a launch party
  • Being requested for your first interview
  • Selling your first 100, then 1,000 copies

There are so many wonderful milestones to celebrate when you’re writing a book and then become a published author. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for each and every one of them.

And remember, you don’t have to be Charles Dickens or Napoleon Hill to write a great book that will help others and help you too. If you think you’re not a good writer it’s time to be brave, gather your support crew and just start!


If you’re keen to throw off the ‘I’m not a good writer’ shackles, and finally get your book written, contact me to see how I can help.

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