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029: 3 Ways to Figure Out Your Message

Deciding how to write your book and what that book will be about are perhaps the toughest tasks for writers working on their first book. When I was deciding on what I wanted to write my first book about, I went through a few different partial drafts before finding my voice and my audience. I chose the topic of writing and business because I saw it as a major pain point for a lot of writers, but it wasn’t a pain point of mine. I enjoy working on both sides of the craft. Having founded a graphic design business years ago and successfully building and managing several brands, I felt qualified to help writers by sharing my expertise. On the flip side, starting from grass roots as a writer and working my way up through a few different writing and editing jobs, I felt confident that I could also lend a hand to those writers who needed help breaking into writing and those writers that needed encouragement, guidance and tips to become better.

As I searched for the right methodology for developing my platform, I tried each of these methods and had varying success with each one.

The Point A to Point B Method

I learned this method from Darren Rowse at ProBlogger. In the Point A to Point B method, you sit down with a sheet of paper. On that paper, you draw a line down the center and label the left side A and the right side B. On side A, you list the types of people who will be reading your book (or who you are targeting to read your book). On side B, you write down how those readers will be changed or how they will grow as a result of reading your book. This will help you figure out the direction of your book and whether your topic is well thought out or if  it requires further thought if you can’t get them from point A to point B. I like using this method as it becomes more about my inward motivation as a writer. Am I writing to offer some- thing of value and benefit to others, or do I need to examine myself before spending time writing a book with no soul (and invariably no audience)? A word to the wise: readers can tell the difference between a book written to add value or entertain them and a book from poor motivation.

Using an Avatar to Target Your Audience

This is a method I picked up from Kate Erickson at EOFire. Your avatar is the person that your writing will most benefit. Who is the person that will most likely be reading your book, benefiting from your wisdom, and likely to apply  it and share it with others. On a sheet of paper, think of your reader. This makes it real.

  • Ask yourself these questions:
  • What is his or her name?
  • Where does he or she live?
  • What is his or her dream?
  • What does his or her day look like (job, routine, etc.)?
  • What’s his or her pain point?
  • Where does he or she search solutions to solve problems?
  • Where does access to the right tools help him or her take the next step?

Meet my Avatar, Sarah:
Sarah is 24 years old and lives in the suburbs. She’s a journalist for a local magazine and wants to learn to tell stories that inspire and resonate with her readers.

She loves to learn and listen to podcasts as she’s driving to work, or when she’s in the gym, or on a run. Sarah also reads blogs on writing, regularly subscribing to email lists to get free tips and eBooks that will help make her better at her craft. She follows industry-thought leaders on social media and makes it a point to attend one writing conference each year. In her free time, she’s working on a book that she hopes to self-publish.

Sarah wonders if she has what it takes to write a book. Her friends and family believe in her and often tell her she has the talent to write a book. She’s a bit shy, and wonders how she will promote and sell her book when she does finish it. She’s committed to becoming an author and publishing her book despite having questions, doubts, and fears about the process.

As you can see, this exercise is useful, and fun. It gives you a person that you can think about as you write. Erickson says that as she creates, she talks to her avatar and asks her what she wants and makes decisions based on her avatar’s needs. It’s a practice I have also adopted.

Try both methods to see which resonates with you. One may serve you better than the other, or like I did, you may find value in both.

Scrum Method

I learned this technique from organization expert Linda Clevenger when she appeared on Episode 008 of my podcast. This method involves using post-it notes to visually construct your book from start to finish so that you can outline it immediately. Begin by writing every topic you can think of regarding your book on separate notes. Let’s say your book is about how to play basketball. On several different notes, write the topics: equipment, rules, history, choosing a basketball, shoes, drills, playing defense, and so forth. On a blank wall or a whiteboard, start sticking these up. As you exhaust all of your ideas, then begin to figure out where each fits in and if certain topics can serve as chapters. Grouping them up on the wall or the board creates your outline. Then write down what you see as a loose table of contents and begin fleshing out your book. I highly recommend that you try this. It’s a great way to open your mind and get into the writing much faster. I’ve used this method to decide which types of guest I wanted on my podcast. What’s great about this is that you can use it to organize most anything, from your goals to your business.

Taking Action

If you don’t already have an idea for what you’ll be writing, try the Point A to Point B method and the Avatar approach first. Take out a sheet of paper and start now.

If you do know what you want to write, then use the Scrum method. Buy a pack of post-it notes and play with outlining your book today.


Photo: Eliatt