This Blog Article is an Experiment

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On my book writing journey I’ve hit the first big hurdle. Yay for challenges! I know there will be lots of little and big obstacles along the way. Hitting this one means I’m one step closer to the part where I’m happily tossing words onto the page. It’s all part of the process. 

And because one of my goals with this book is to be as transparent as possible, I’m going to share with you where I’m at. I hope you will forgive this experiment. I’m actually thinking about doubling down and writing my entire book as an experiment. So a lot is riding on this blog post.

Let’s see how it goes, shall we?

The Problem with Writing a Personal Development Book

During the past week or so, I’ve been trying to outline my book. It seems like outlining this book should be easy. I love big picture thinking (or so I keep telling myself and others)! But as I’ve been grinding my teeth and banging my head against the wall in between procrastinating and actively avoiding thinking about the outline, I’m reminded that it’s harder than I think. So if you’ve ever struggled with outlining a book or even a blog post, it’s not just you.

It seems to me that a good place to start when you’re stuck is to back up and look at what you know. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to drive your car up an icy hill. Sometimes you need to back up and get up some momentum to push past the slippery part…and sometimes you end up spinning out into a snowbank. So buckle up!

Here’s what I know:

  • I’m going to write a personal development book
  • The topic is self-awareness

These two things won’t change. Beyond these, I’m less sure.

In my previous blog article, I shared that I was all set to write this book on self-awareness and then I remembered self-awareness is a tricky little beast. Then I went down a research rabbit hole (rookie mistake) and learned that “tricky little beast” is only the tip of the iceberg.

Now, I’m buried under a mountain of information with a myriad of directions in which I could go. It’s not quite analysis paralysis. It feels more like a lack of inspiration. I know I need to find something juicy that I can sink my teeth into. Otherwise, I risk getting bored and abandoning my book at the 75% mark. 

The real trouble is nothing in particular is calling out to me to be written—nothing in particular, except for this: 

Do you know what bothers me most about certain types of self-help or personal development books? They follow a (perhaps effective) but annoyingly obvious formula. The author managed to do something amazing. They learned how to walk again after a car accident left them paralyzed or they became a millionaire selling online courses after smacking their broke and homeless head against rock bottom. 

I don’t intend to take anything away from achievements like this—really. I respect the hell out of authors with these kinds of stories. Their heroism and beneficial lessons learned along the way ought to be shared. 

What bothers me is the distilling of the information into a 5-step process that “anyone can learn.” It’s as if they were following some kind of magical success formula all along without realizing it and now they’re going to share this incredible “shortcut” with the rest of us. Too good to be true, says I. 

Looking at this, maybe I’m not in as bad a position as I think after all. See, I thought I’d write about self-awareness because I believed I was more self-aware than the average person. But my research has started to put some dents into that belief. 

So maybe I’m in a good position to write about how to become self-aware, since I’m not yet there (though the jury is technically still out. I took this free self-awareness quiz and I haven’t yet gotten my results). 

The Stoics had a two-part prescription for increasing self-awareness: first, be skeptical of your own perceptions and beliefs about events until you’ve tested them and secondly, take the opposite approach with others, be sympathetic before skeptical. This also seems to me to be a good approach to writing a personal development book because it’s a formula for writing without ego.

Self-Awareness Unicorns

One statistic in particular keeps echoing in my brain: 95% of people believe they are self-aware, when the real number is closer to 10 or 15%. Can I really see myself in the top 10% of people when it comes to self-awareness? 

I keep coming back to examples of times when someone has pointed something out to me about myself that has literally surprised me. The yoga examples (“push your arms straight! No, straight”) are enough to make me doubt whether I’m even in the same room as my body most of the time. Perhaps I can be self-aware without having a lot of body awareness, but this doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.

Before I started my research, I believed I was what Tasha Eurich calls a “self-awareness unicorn.” In her TedTalk, she says self-awareness unicorns needed to clear four hurdles in order to be part of her self-awareness study:

  1. They had to believe they were self-aware as measured by an assessment Eurich and her team designed and validated
  2. Someone who knew them well had to agree
  3. They had to believe they’d increased their self-awareness during their lifetime
  4. And someone who knew them well also had to agree with this 

Maybe I’m not a “self-awareness unicorn,” but maybe I can be a different kind of unicorn: a self-help author who writes a personal development book without an ego. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Outlining here I come!

And if you have questions about publishing your nonfiction book, Christine McLean’s Ultimate Nonfiction Book Guide is a good place to start. Christine will be interviewing me about “Write the Thing!” on her podcast later this year. I’ll let you know when the episode is ready.

Photo credit: racorn