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1.5.19

How to prepare a book chapter before you write it

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Great ideas are more common than you think. I have several of them every day. Book titles, catchy phrases, new business innovations. I am a genius in my own mind. But (and yes, there is a but), the sheer brilliance of my thinking can evaporate when I start to write it down. What seemed deep and substantial before I wrote it, seems thin and wispy on the page. It can be a shocking moment.

Authors are the ones that keep going past the shock and work out ways of substantiating their ideas. Yes, they are willing to believe that their idea is weak and should be screwed up and chucked in the bin. Before they do so (and join the vast bulk of humanity), they stress test their idea.

As a journalist, always up against a deadline, I watched my ideas sometimes turn into puffs of smoke. Nasty. The common issue when this happened was this: I hadn’t done enough research. I simply had not answered all the questions that would be in the readers’ mind. Journalists are often called sceptics. In fact, they are channels for the scepticism of their readers. If they are simply enthusiasts for an idea, they have not only failed in their professional duty, they have nothing to write.

Here are some ways to substantiate your ideas in preparation to write your chapter.

Start by making your point

You start with your idea (I prefer to call it a proposition) and explain it in detail. My proposition in this blog is that ideas are common, and the authors are those who substantiate them.

Anticipate objections and questions

Imagine you have just explained your idea to a person sitting in front of you. What would they ask about that idea? Usually, it is questions such as, do you have any evidence to prove what you have said? If I accept your idea, how will it help me? Then they challenge you with a specific exception or objection. And then they simply say it is all too hard—outlining the barriers to them accepting your ideas.

The one thing your reader won’t ask for that you must provide

A person sitting in front of you won’t ask you to tell a story that proves your point. Yet, that is exactly what they need. An example, an anecdote, a story from your personal experience or that your friends, family, or clients engage their heart as well as their mind.

Make your chapter a conversation with the reader

You may be thinking, how do I get all that in? You do exactly what I just did. You find links such as a question, an answer to a question, or a subheading—a million possibilities—that gives a conversational form to your chapter.

Bullet point your chapter before you start

Bullet point each of the steps I have outlined above. It’s like a sketch in preparation for a painting. It’s so much easier to see the structure of your chapter and ideas if you can look at them in summary. It’s easier to move points or change ideas in bullet point form, long before you have written them out, labouring over the choice of words.

Preparing your chapter will build substance into your ideas. It will reveal whether there are gaps in your research or thinking. And, when done well, it will fill you with confidence that the chapter is going to be terrific. And it will be if you prepare well.

 

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