Last week, I talked about how the key to talking about yourself in your writing is to tell the reader why they should care. I opened the post with a series of seemingly basic but actually super important questions:
WHO are you?
WHAT do you do?
HOW do you think?
WHY should we care?
And in this post, I want to dig into that second question:
What do you do?
Hands down, the best part of my job is getting to work with interesting and talented people. And yet, when I read through their opening chapters, eighty-five percent of the time I’ll spot a big glaring gaping hole: they don’t talk about what they do. Like, at all. When I ask them why they’ve left out such essential info, I get one of two answers:
Oh, well my work doesn’t really have anything to do with what my book is about.
I did! Right here, in this sentence. You just have to tilt your head and squint a little and you’ll see it.
And the reaction they get from me is an Alexis-Rose-style “Okay, but no.”
Let me be clear: If you spend roughly thirty percent of your waking hours doing something, that thing is going to inform your experience and knowledge, which will inform your writing even if it “has nothing to do” with what your book is about.
So let’s pop those two excuse bubbles with a big sharp pointy, shall we?
What Do You *Actually* Do?
Look, there’s talking about what you do and then there’s talking about what you *actually* do. Talking about what you do is talking about facts. Talking about what you *actually* do is talking about experience, which are facts made human.
When you sit down to write about your work in your book, it’s entirely too easy to fall back on facts and reprint what your LinkedIn bio says. Or over-generalize the facts, and downplay your awesomeness. Or woo-woo wash the facts and obscure the entire thing in cloudy phrases like I help organizations thrive/connect/get the most out of their people or I help people succeed/transform/become their true selves.
And as you may or may not know, vague/boring/downplaying is a problem. It undermines your authority, it makes you sound like everyone else, and it sure as hell undercuts the value of your book. It takes just as much energy to make your work sound boring, so you may as well sex that shit up sexy. And that’s where experience comes in.
The key is to serve up the facts with a big dollop of personal perspective. We’re not talking about website copy here; we’re talking about YOUR book. Define what you do in YOUR terms. How do you view your work? What do you *actually* do? What does it mean to you? Where do you feel most satisfied in the work you do? What’s the sneaky little truth that you know about your *actual* work?
Want to know mine? I help authors see the gap between the manuscript they have and the manuscript they want and show them how to get there. But what I *actually* do is help them see the heart-pumping potential in their ideas, their book, and themselves. I expand their vision for what’s possible for all three.
Let’s say people hire you to redesign their workplace. You reconfigure their common areas, break apart the heavily segmented office layout they inherited from the 80s, and install windows and skylights to bring in more natural light. But what you’re actually doing, design magician that you are, is overhauling a company’s environment to make it supportive of their cultural values—and, oh yeah, you help them define exactly what those values are and what they look like in practice. Your clients get a beautiful space, a better company culture, AND happier employees. Given a choice between describing what you do and what you *actually* do, which is the more compelling frame?
Taking the time to write honestly about what you *actually* do will also help you see the connection between your work and that book topic you’re convinced has nothing to do with it. Because ACTUALLY they do.
Let’s say you’re a director writing a book about how you learned to manage your anxiety. It’s easy to assume that movie-making and mental health have nothing to do with one another, but here’s the thing: those two things coexist in you. Your experience informs your knowledge and perspective, remember? So you’ve got an awesome opportunity here to make your book stand out by talking about how you manage anxiety as a working creative who doesn’t get paid if your brain no-shows. Which is the stronger play? Speaking so that someone thinks “Oh, that’s me. This is the book I need”? Or adding your voice to the vast, vast, VAST landscape of books, which is not unlike screaming into Iceland?
Here’s where we’re going with all this (and spoiler: it’s even better than the Blue Lagoon)…
Your Philosophical Edge
I’m going to say it again: Your experience, not just in the day to day but also how you got [waving arms around] here, informs your experience and knowledge, which informs your writing.
Looking back at your experiences, the choices you made, how you show up in your various spheres—your facts made human—enables you to observe how you think. And how you think means EVERYTHING in the game of distinguishing your book from the millions of others out there. You have to find your philosophical edge and then wave it around like a monkey in a knife fight.
Once you know your real perspectives and have alluringly (and convincingly) articulated your philosophical edge, not only do you have the unique-to-you slant that will make your book stand out, you have new language for how you talk about your book in your jacket copy, Amazon page, author page, social media, emails, and podcast interviews. You have language for attracting an audience that feels like “your people.” You know, the ones who are going to book you for speaking gigs, hire you to coach them, sign up for your course, bulk order copies of your book for everyone on their holiday gift list, and everything else that brings you closer to achieving your goals. You may even find that you get a new language for describing yourself, what you do, and why it matters so damn much.
So now that you know where we’re going, take some time to reconsider and answer my question: What do you *actually* do?
FYI, if you want help articulating what you do and how it connects to your book, download my free Crafting Clarity workbook. Or, you can book a one-on-one session with me, and I can help you see what I see.