How to write a book if you’re not a writer

Many people feel they ought to write a book, or they’re told by other people they ought to write a book, but when they sit down to write…nothing.

writing frustration
© Sasajo –

Writing is often called a craft, and it is something most people learn to do competently. I find that businesspeople, especially, are good writers because they must communicate well to succeed.

But writing is also an art form, which means a great deal a writer’s outut depends on talent and imagination rather than mastery of grammar and spelling.

Seth Godin once wrote “No one ever gets talker’s block,” although those of us who are strongly reserved might often profess to such a thing.

Nevertheless, if you find yourself unable to write, there are several ways to talk a book out:

  • Dictation software. The best known app for that is Dragon NaturallySpeaking.* You may have seen the ads for this on TV. The only downside with this is you have to speak the punctuation. Not as Victor Borge used to, unfortunately, but by saying “comma” or “period” at the appropriate times.


  • Audio recording. If the idea of talking to a computer unnerves you, consider using an audio recorder instead. You can do this alone, if you’re able to work that way. But a lot of people can only speak well when another person is present to act as a sounding board. Get a friend or colleague (or, dare I say it, writing coach) to “interview” you.
  • Video recording. If you do a lot of teaching or public speaking, get a videographer to record your talks. This does presume that each talk is different. Or you can do video interviews instead of audio interviews as above.

If you use the audio or video method, you’ll have to get a transcriptionist to turn the recording into a typescript. Then you turn that, or your transcript from Dragon, over to an (ahem) editor to craft it into a book.

Transforming a raw transcript into a polished book is not an exact science. Follow-up interviews might be necessary. Result will vary widely, but you can expect to get about 20,000 useable words out of every 3 hours of recorded speech. That’s a respectable length for an e-book. For a full-length nonfiction book of 60,000 words, that means at least 9 hours of dictation or interviews.

Keep in mind that those nine hours don’t have to be invested all at once. In fact, to avoid burnout, they should be broken up over several days or even weeks. Consider, too, that if the interviews or class recordings are of good enough quality, they can be used on your website as a podcast or web series. If they’re instructional, you can package them as saleable content to have a revenue stream going while the book is being edited. Then market the book as a companion volume to the web series.

Maybe you’re asking why anyone would buy the book if they can get the same information in a video. Ideally, the book will have additional or expanded content. But even if it doesn’t, some people are visual learners and prefer to see the words, while others are audial learners and prefer to hear the words. Furthermore, the book will serve as a reference to the audio-visual material. It’s much easier to look up a passage in a book, especially an e-book, than it is to find it in an audiobook.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I am a shareholder in Nuance Communications Inc. (NUAN), the maker of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Though if I were smart, I’d have sold my shares two months ago when the price hit $20. It’s at $15.75 as I write [sigh].


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