A good friend is writing a how-to book. He's got all the knowledge -- he does actually know how to. But while he writes a mean email and even some good web copy, he doesn't consider himself a writer. Especially not an author (insert cymbal crash here). So he asked me for some tips to get started with only an hour or two a day to work on the book. The advice could be helpful for any kind of writing you're doing.

  1. Write to one person. Think about someone you know who needs this information (like me, for instance) and write as though you’re sending me a quick email. Keep it brief and chatty. This is the best way to draft. You can fill in missing details later. (More on audience here)
  2. Draft fast. Don’t try to get the draft “perfect” the first time. Just get the main ideas and a few key details down. You can make it better later. Trying to be perfect the first time out not only slows you down, but can be demoralizing. This will help you get the most out of your hour a day.
  3. Focus on the most important thing. For each topic, try to get down the ONE most important thing a person needs to know and then 3 to 5 key details that support it. We often use this little organizer:
  4. Keep your sections short. This is especially important for technical information like equipment or specs, but it’s helpful for all content. Look at Seth Godin’s Linchpin. So easy to read on the go, and so full of great information.
  5. Use lots of examples and anecdotes. Most readers will want to feel like they can do this, too, so include as many “real life” quotes and examples as possible.
  6. Sound like you. You have a great voice in real life and you want to reflect that in your writing. Remember, we “hear” reading in our head. Avoid the temptation we all learned in school to adopt a tone other than our own. You want your sense of humor and credibility to come through together.

Ready? Set. Go!

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Credit for the Idea-Details goes to my brilliant husband, Steve Peha. © 1995-2011 Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc. Used by permission.