Six years ago, I was a writer who hadn’t published anything with an idea that was nagging at me to turn it into a book. I was also a struggling writing coach, trying to fit coaching in between my day job, my long commute, and an infant son. I was tired, distracted, stressed, and overwhelmed.
But I also felt the calling to follow this idea that wouldn’t leave me alone.
I wanted to write a self-help book.
I wanted to write a self-help book for a lot of reasons, not the least important of which was the fact that self-help books had helped me through some of the darkest times in my life. And even though I had made it through those dark times into greener pastures, I still read a lot of self-help books. I genuinely enjoyed the genre and I thought it would be fun to try my hand at it.
But I had no idea what I was doing.
And so, I ran into a lot of roadblocks along the way.
Out of everything I wished I’d known before I started writing a self-help book, there are 3 big things that would have made all the difference for me. I’m sharing them here in the hopes that they’ll help you and you won’t get stuck at an impasse for as long as I did at times.
You Don’t Need to Be an Expert Before You Start
Yes, there are a ton of self-help books out there written by experts. No, you do not need to be one of them to write something that will benefit people. You can serve an audience who needs your particular brand of wisdom by bringing what you already know to the table, even if you don’t have years of research on your resume.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that a lot of people who read and love self-help books are turned off by the stuffy-sounding, academically-minded experts. The truth is that, these days, most people are busy, stressed, and stretched thin between families and jobs and personal needs. A book that is simple, easy to digest, and designed to be helpful in bite-sized chunks that can be absorbed in between other pressing life tasks, is actually what most readers are looking for these days.
Sit down with yourself and think honestly about what you know already that could be helpful to someone else. What topic could you teach on if you were called to teach a class tomorrow? What are you passionate about? You don’t need 10 more years of studying whatever subject came up for you during this exercise. You already have your answer right there.
Your Experience DOES Matter
Chances are, when you did the exercise above and thought about what you already know and what you’re passionate about, the things that came up for you were directly related to your unique life experience. Much of the time we discount the events we’ve gone through in our life simply because they happened to us, so they don’t seem all that interesting. But whatever it is we’ve experienced, if it was hard and painful, or dark and confusing, and we came out on the other side as a survivor, then our take on those experiences and the lessons we learned can be helpful to other people.
Think about how many times you’ve read someone else’s story about struggling with anxiety, or managing PTSD, or going through a horrible divorce, or any number of other things that make living a human life so difficult at times. If you went through that same experience yourself, then you didn’t feel so alone anymore after reading someone else’s account of it. And if you never experienced it, then you still gained a new perspective from looking out of someone else’s eyes for a little while.
It will be the same with your book. Whatever you’ve gone through in life, if you can find the lessons in it and you’re willing to be vulnerable enough to share those personal lessons with others, then your book will be helpful to others.
You Don’t Need to Have Everything Figured out Before You Begin
This was where I got stuck, for a long time. I thought I needed to have an outline, and a mind map, and a list of chapters, and bullet points, and a bunch of other things that would “keep me on track.” I delayed starting for a long time because I was waiting on myself to come up with those items, which (surprise) never materialized. It wasn’t until I dived in and just started writing that I realized why I was procrastinating so badly on putting all that other stuff together. Because I never needed it in the first place.
Yes, it’s good to begin with a rough concept of what you want to write about and a loose idea of where you want to go with it. But give yourself space to explore and permission to change course if your intuition tells you to go in a new direction. You might write chapters that you end up not using. You may think your book is going to go in a certain order and then you rearrange the whole thing down the road. So what? You’re not in a race to the finish and the point is not to reach maximum efficiency like you’re some kind of writing robot. If you don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck with a deadline (and if this is your first self-help book you most likely don’t) then you have the freedom to do whatever you want.
Take your time and give yourself room to enjoy the process. It doesn’t need to feel rigid, or like it’s some sort of daily grind that you’re forcing yourself through. Writing a self-help book can be fun, and you can also learn a lot about yourself and your creative practice, all in the process of writing it.
As a challenge to all of you out there who have always thought about writing a self-help book, but have also felt too nervous to take the leap, I’m going to ask you to take a little time today to sit and think. Make yourself a cup of tea or take a long, hot bath and while you’re relaxing, think about everything and anything you know that could be helpful to other people. Think about what that knowledge would look like in a book. Picture the cover of that book and visualize yourself handing it to another person who needs it and will benefit from it.
No matter who you are, or how your life has unfolded, you DO have wisdom that could help someone else in need. There are a lot of people, in a lot dark places right now, and the world needs all the helping hands it can get.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer and The INFJ Revolution. She is also currently offering a free copy of her book on creative marketing for INFJ and INFP writers to anyone who signs up for her newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers.