Today’s self-help book Writing Rule is going to sound a whole lot like Thursday’s self-help Writing Challenge. For memory’s sake, here’s the latter:
Make it followable.
As first mentioned in Tuesday’s writing Definition, the self-help and how-to genres follow the same basic structure. They’re step-by-step guides to show readers how to accomplish a stated objective.
The difference is that, self-help books have to be a lot more emotionally, psychologically and/or spiritually supportive. They’re not just promising some physical accomplishment. They’re encouraging something more significant. So they should include just as much encouragement as instruction.
And now here’s our newest piece of self-help book-writing information:
Self-help readers want to know they’re not alone.
The whole reason people buy self-help books is because they want to change. They’re not happy with their attitudes, with their situations or with their outcomes, and they want to see improvement.
Yet life-changing accomplishments are rarely easy to achieve. Which is why they’re best paired with encouraging stories and sources. While you probably can’t be right there beside your readers, you can give them plenty of inspiration to back them up.
See the similarities?
But here’s the thing: the Writing Challenge was all about straight-up telling your future readers, “Yes! You can do it!” It's future-positive.
Our Writing Rule, meanwhile, is all about proving it’s already been done.
Not by your to-be readers, admittedly. Not yet. But the point is that others have shown it’s possible. Probably others who have had it just as bad or worse than them.
Let’s say your book is about overcoming the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual ramifications of child abuse. In that case, you could include the story of Beatrice, the oldest of four children living in the Philadelphia projects in the 1960s.
Beatrice did not have it easy, to say the least. After her father had a mental breakdown, her mother left him... and that was that for what could have been a happy childhood.
Angry about how her life had turned out, Beatrice’s mom would take her rage out on her children, throwing furniture on top of them, tossing them down the stairs and shaving their heads to humiliate them.
And that’s the very, very short story of how this poor little girl grew up.
But today, Beatrice is the married mother of four herself and the grandmother of two. She is a talented, gifted musician; has taught and tutored guitar, creative writing, logic, science and ASL; and can cook with the best of them.
She was able to move past the hurt, anger and confusion associated with child abuse. And so can your readers.
That’s the kind of encouraging story you want to include while writing a self-help book. And that’s the kind of conclusion you want to reach: that, yes, life can be bewilderingly bad sometimes.
Yes, it can hold readers back for a time. Maybe even a long time.
But there’s still a present and a future to claim. If the inspirational people you include in your book-to-be did it with such limited resources, so can the reader. (Incidentally, this can include you, the author-to-be.)
If you’re writing a self-help book, you need to expect that your readers need all the assistance they can get in overcoming their past and present issues. So if you’re writing a self-help book, don’t let them down.