A version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur.com on May 13, 2021.
I hear this complaint repeatedly from new writers: “I was so enthusiastic when I started writing my business book. But months have gone by, and now all I want to do is throw the book out the window!”
The struggle is real when it comes to writing your first book. The good news is that the pitfalls new writers face are fairly uniform, and they can be fixed easily. Here are the top five to avoid.
1. Thinking the first chapter is always what you write first
I remember a lead who sent me a manuscript that began, “I guess the place to start this is…”
Reading that sentence, it was clear to me that the writer struggled to find a good beginning.
I often don’t know where a story or book is going to start until I’ve written half of it.
Recently, I wrote a powerful beginning for a general nonfiction book. My client liked it. But then we interviewed somebody, and the material we obtained was phenomenal, so we used that as the initial chapter instead.
For first-time writers, the most important thing to do is to write and keep writing. Instead of racking your brain endlessly about what the beginning will be, just start writing about what interests you most.
Later, you can work out if that’s where the book starts or not.
2. Assuming it’s going to be easy
New writers often don’t realize how exhausting it can be to write a whole book. The mental energy required to churn out top-quality wordage is immense.
A lot of new writers tell me they will “try and write a little bit after work every day.” This is always a red flag to me. Personally, I can’t write well when I’m hungry or over-tired. It’s simply too strenuous.
I do my best writing in the morning.
You need to be at the top of your mental game when you sit down to write. So, do it first thing in the morning, after a good breakfast and maybe a bit of exercise.
3. Trying to write like someone else
I once read a manuscript from a lead who had an incredibly relaxed, drinks-at-the-bar voice. The writing was easy to read, and it drew me in. I loved it.
But that lead had previously sent the manuscript over to a book coach, who sent back a litany of angry red notes. The coach insisted it should all be more formal and properly structured.
I felt that the coach had failed to appreciate this author’s voice.
Your voice is better than Seth Godin’s voice, Bill Gates’s voice, Stephen King’s voice. It’s better simply because it’s yours.
The whole point of writing a business book is to establish your mark on the business world. You do that by offering your unique perspective on the challenges you have had to face.
It’s difficult to do that when you’re trying to write like someone else.
4. Telling a story that people won’t understand
Like playing the piano, writing is an art — the more you practice, the more skilled you will become.
There are nuances to writing, which people learn simply by writing a lot. These nuances include skilled turns of phrase, a slick change of pace mid-paragraph, callbacks to earlier themes or even specific choices of words.
There’s a lot to know — but the primary thing to know is that you must tell a story.
Even a prescriptive book describing a particular coaching method can tell a story — or it can tell many stories in the form of short anecdotes.
A book without the aforementioned nuances, but which has a strong story, can still hold its own among its competitors.
Don’t worry about the high-level skills that professional writers deploy. As a beginner, focus only on the story you’re telling as a first step. You’ll develop the additional skills as you do more and more writing.
5. Letting endless edits slow you down
Above all else, you should be writing.
Many business books tend to be approximately 60,000 to 80,000 words long. Set that as a target you want to hit and work weekly to come closer to that goal.
Don’t worry too much about the quality of the first draft. As a beginner, just try and push through to that finish line of your final word count. Then fix up quality. It might mean cutting large chunks of material. That’s okay. That’s how it goes with writing.
As a new writer, focus on writing more than you do on editing and rewriting. So long as you’re putting new words down, you’ll be okay in the long run.