Don’t Fall in Love with Your Own Words

In editing more than 300 books and writing eight of my own, I have learned the importance of humility in the writing process. Writing a book is hard enough; writing a good book, let alone a great one, is a huge challenge. One of the ways not to get there is to fall in love with your own writing. Don’t misunderstand me. Every writer should take great pride in his or her own work. That’s essential if one is ever going to live up to one’s own potential. But that’s not what I am talking about here.

heart-imageI am referring to those authors who view business books as a venue to include countless personal stories about themselves (stories that no one else cares about), or the author who inserts dozens of quotes by Plato or Aristotle or Adam Smith.  The occasional allusion to an historical figure can, when used appropriately, add a nice touch to the text. But when an author really goes overboard, writing about business as if this was his great American novel [think Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway], then he has gone way off the tracks and needs some serious feedback if he is ever going to find his way back again.

There are also the authors who cannot help themselves: they put the quality of the writing ahead of the quality of the content. This, too,  can be a fatal error. When it comes to business books, content is king. The writing is important, but only to the extent that it conveys some important lessons that can be of immediate use to managers, investors or whichever audience the author is attempting to reach.  The other problem is that authors often are not accurate judges of their writing ability.  Authors often write as they speak, which results in many run-on sentences, among other thorny problems.

The key takeaway: make sure that you have the right material, content, etc. before the writing is perfected. Editors and active agents can help with the writing and the words. But it is up to you to supply the right content.

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