Teaching Book Writing Under Novel Conditions
I’ve been resting my shoulder and arm due to what I finally discovered is a rotator cuff injury. I’ve been afraid to see any doctors given the risk of being in a medical-related facility. So I put off calling my doctor for three weeks. I know, a bit crazy, but also somehow careful, right?
I still hadn’t discovered Google Docs voice, so I typed the occasional email one handed and did little other work besides supporting the emerging authors in my book writing program, which has been an education in itself.
Many of the course participants work in healthcare: a COO providing leadership for an entire hospital and its many teams, a Canadian psychiatrist finding herself now in charge of a new special unit for her hospital, psychologists, a healthcare leadership consultant, two patient advocates, one of whom runs a small nonprofit while parenting and caregiving for two “medical zebras,” that is, children with complex diagnoses.
Normally, by this time, many participants would be celebrating completion of a first draft or first draft with some holes. Others would be close. A few would be revising their goals. This year, those struggling on the front lines of healthcare return home exhausted each night. Others find their book concepts shifting as they incorporate how this new normal affects their readers and topic.
For some entrepreneurs in class, social distancing has wiped out their major source of income: in-person training and consulting. They are faced with whether to hunker down and focus on writing their books, trusting that their income will be replaced in time, or whether to focus on replacing the lost income now and reducing their writing hours. Others find themselves working harder than ever to support clients in the changing business landscape.
Varied Book Writing Challenges
Not everyone has been writing. Not everyone is able to make it to class. It’s my job to figure out how to support them, how to keep them connected to their books, how to help them make progress in these demanding times and yet to give space to those who need it. For one person, we can reframe the writing of the book as a lifeline, feeding their soul. For another, already stretched too thin now in their front line work, the book needs to take a back seat, but we can still move it along with a few notes, or voice recording a recent anecdote to write in depth in the future.
My job is not that different from parenting teenagers in that I have no clear answers. I fumble my way in the dark. Teaching becomes an experiment. My lesson plans go out the window and I try to discern what the group needs at this moment.
One week we focus on rethinking goals, schedules and book concepts. We brainstorm how to get back in the groove. The next week, I scrap the planned marketing-oriented lesson, which is creative and fun but seems tone-deaf to the world we find ourselves in. Instead we further explore secrets of good writing, revision, topics that feel more related to the essence of the books and their messages.
And of course the idea of a “group need” is, in itself, an illusion. Some writers need to find time and space to write. Several are reconsidering aspects of their book concept or outline in light of the pandemic. Some are ready for more instruction in finding voice. Some want to explore publishing options and next steps. How do I address these diverse needs in each class without someone feeling their time has been wasted, their needs not met?
Addressing Various Readers’ Needs
Similarly to my teaching dilemma, when writing a nonfiction book—especially, self-help, how-to or business—one must clarify who one’s readers are and what they need. If you cast your net too widely. it’s impossible to write the book that the diverse group needs and have them all see the book as a fit for them. Yet, not all your readers will be in the exact same place with the exact same needs. You will need to think about various groups of readers.
Is your book changing as the needs of your readers and the world may be changing at this time?
This is where it gets interesting, where you can make decisions that will help your book find the ideal balance between a large broad market and a niche market, where you can get creative:
- Adding side bars for the scientific information that some of your readers will crave and others skip
- Including special sections or chapters for a specific segment of the audience
- Sending readers to a website or video that offers more depth for their particular situation
Let’s Hear From You.
What are you doing to keep your book alive?