Early days progress
Part of cranking up
I’m just getting started with the book project that I have invited you along on—but I’m started! This is just a quick update.
I really haven’t even started outlining very much, but I’m on track.
While I have made part or all of my living as a writer for over 50 years, the reality is that most of that has been nonfiction in short form. I have lots of “publication credits” in the form of articles, and even three books. But one of those three was a textbook, and two were very narrowly specialized publications.
Like most writers I know, fiction was always the dream, and although I piddled with it, I never developed it.
The current book project is not simply fiction. It is in a fairly generalized genre known as a business fable or a business parable. In other words, it will use a story to help teach some useful principles.
Examples within the genre include:
The Go-Giver, Expanded Edition: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea
Said the Lady with the Blue Hair: 7 Rules for Success in Direct Sales Wrapped in a Wonderful Lesson for Life
The Go-Giver Marriage: A Little Story About the Five Secrets to Lasting Love
….and lots more.
It’s a challenge! To make such a book effective requires skills in both fiction and nonfiction writing. But I have figured out a key to what makes the best of these books work.
The story has to come first.
I don’t mean “first” in terms of planning. I mean in terms of writing focus.
If it isn’t a good story, it will not communicate the underlying message. The book has to first stand up simply as an engaging story.
I’m reading one right now (that I will not name since I’m being critical) that is a slog because it’s, well, preachy. It would work better as a straight nonfiction book. The story is slow, the characters are cardboard, the premises of the plot are unbelievable.
All the examples I named have at their root a good story. For instance, I gave a copy of The Go-Giver Marriage to a client. I’ve given her several books over the years, most of them straight nonfiction. She has read some of them, slogged through a few, and just not read a few. Given the implications of the subtitle, she thought The Go-Giver Marriage would be interesting, perhaps a slog, but something she would consume only because it would be “good for her,” the way you eat Brussels sprouts.
Instead, she told me she lost sleep reading the book because she couldn’t put it down. She had to know, “and then what happened?” Her husband, who is not much of a reader, had the same experience.
That particular book is a bit unusual in that it has a fiction half that actually incorporates a story within a story, and also has a nonfiction study guide half. The story makes you care about the principles.
When you write one of these, sometimes you start with the story and figure out the underlying principles later, and sometimes you start with the principles and then develop a story to exemplify them. In any case, though, the story has to work as a story. Otherwise, the book will have much less impact than it would have as a straight work of nonfiction.
But if it does work, the story will increase the impact of the principles exponentially. That’s why people keep writing such books.
In my case, I have a pretty clear idea of the underlying lesson. I have a rough idea for the story. In my next post I’ll talk a little more about where each of those exist right now.
This week has been one of generally sketching out ideas and digging into reminders of the craft. Three great resources in this have been:
How To Write A Novel: From Idea to Book by Joanna Penn. Joanna is a fantastic mentor in the whole area of making a living as a writer. She writes both nonfiction and fiction, and while she gives great advice for those seeking to outline a book, as a fiction writer she is a “discovery writer.” In America we call such people “pantsers,” people who write by the seat of their pants. But in the United Kingdom where she is based, “pants” doesn’t mean trousers; it means underwear. While writers are advised to “write naked,” that’s not what the phrase means. I am growing fond of the term “discovery writer,” but I think the attempt to do such has been one of the things to get in the way of my own efforts at fiction.
Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker. (Recommended by Joanna Penn—thank you!) This doesn’t recommend removing your underwear, but rather focuses on the plotter side of the pantser vs. plotter divide. I resisted the idea of outline also, since I have also spent over 40 years working in an academic environment, but this isn’t outlining in the same way. I really think this approach may provide the bridge I need between idea and execution without locking me into anything.
How to Write Good (Or At Least Gooder) by John David Mann. For a limited time, this book is available free. It compiles the experience of a bestselling author who has had an amazing career writing both fiction and nonfiction. He is one half of the collaboration with Bob Burg responsible for the Go-Giver ecosystem. John is one of the people encouraging me to write my current book. I think he is somewhere between a discovery writer and an outliner. In any case, his advice is unmatched regarding the business fable genre.
Thank you for your interest and support! I would encourage you to share this journey with anyone you know who would be interested.
If someone has shared this with you or you found it on the web, why not subscribe right now? Some people don’t want to know how the sausage is made, but if you’re morbidly curious about that, you can follow along here as I develop this project. It won’t cost you anything to watch.