Hundreds of lost and distraught people. Tammy Kling was in the jungles of Colombia leading a team of airline crisis workers working on a crash. The airline she worked for had lost a jet on a mountain in Buga and passenger recovery was underway…
This was the biggest test in corporate communications and crisis management of her career. Her heart, she said, would break and heal at once as she helped those families overcome grief.
Unfortunately, only four people survived the plane crash and the hundreds who had lost their families didn’t quite know it yet. On the top of that, Kling had just discovered her family. Kling was raised an only child after her father committed suicide when she was seven. The week she was in Colombia, she found her two brothers. The aloneness, and realization that she would never have a chance to know her father, combined with the joy of finding brothers, and then the children that would never know their fathers, crystallized inside her heart. She knew she had to write about it. And she did.
What started as a journal entry eventually became a book and a career as one of the world’s leading ghostwriters and writing coaches. Kling has ghostwritten 106 books, many of which have become best sellers, including New York Times and Wall Street Journal titles, for major athletes, Fortune 100 CEOS and celebrities. One of her books, The Compass, was also a movie.
We caught up with Kling this week so she could share with us some advice on getting started on a book and, who knows, a best-seller.
1. Read as much as you can. “All great things are a collision of internal and external life experiences, past and present,” Kling tells us. The more stories, and books, you read, more ideas and metaphors you will have stored in your mind. So when it comes time to write, those ideas, vocabulary and structure, added to your own experiences, will add another dimension to your own story, making it richer and more compelling.
In the words of William Faulkner, “Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.”
2. Change your view of what a book actually is. Entrepreneurs are, by definition, busy. To that end, Kling says, “Writing doesn’t have to be hard. Writing could mean speaking into a recorder. It does not have to feel like an endless homework assignment. Relax! Your book is simply your life experience as an entrepreneur, and human. It’s also a product to help sell your product, service, or business concepts.”
She adds, “This is the most important function of a book. You cannot be everywhere at the same time. Books go where you cannot go, and do what you cannot do. It is a widespread way to spread your message about your product, service, or philosophy. Chances are, your competitor doesn’t have one… Often an entrepreneur will say, ‘I’m so busy! I can’t write. How do I start?’ I tell them to keep it simple. ‘Call me! Let’s get your ideas on paper!’ 106 books later, and it still is a fun process.”
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
– Stephen King
3. The first section of the book is the foundation.
Kling says, “It’s like building a house. Chapters one, two and three should tell the reader who you are, what you do, and what your life and business contribution to the world is. That connection is important.” Once an emotional connection is established, then you can give advice and become more technical.
4. Writers write. “Don’t get hung up on the details of grammar or style. Just start writing your story. Use a tablet or computer or go old school and use a journal if it feels more comfortable. Just get it out,” Kling says. I often hear people say that they can’t get themselves to write because their minds go blank, or because they fear what others might say. This is understandable. When you write, you expose yourself by putting a piece of yourself out there in the world. It can be hard, but, as Kling says, just write. Open a Word document, grab a piece of paper, eliminate all distractions, and start writing about anything without ever thinking about the end consumer, what they like or dislike.
This advice, for example, is also valid for public speakers. In the process of preparing a speech, I care deeply about my audience, but when delivering the talk, I no longer care. If I did, I would have second thoughts, would stutter and what have you. In the process of preparing your book, your topic and chapters, care deeply about your readers, but the moment you sit down to write, forget about them completely. Instead of listening to a projection of their voices, listen to your heart and what it is telling you instead.
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
– Benjamin Franklin
5. Be authentic. You have a gift. Authenticity is currency. The only way to establish a great connection with an audience is by being authentic and truthful. Entrepreneurs sometimes come to me because they’ve already achieved so much. They say, “I’ve sold my company for millions, and now I want to let my kids know who I am and how I think.” That’s the gift and advice they want to bring to the world, and I tell them to do so in the most authentic way possible – to just be themselves.”
“And then entrepreneurs often tell me that they simply must get their book out, and that they feel as if the message inside of them is what they were born to do. This is usually sparked by something deep in the soul, such as a passion or a business idea that you want to share. It is a pull. I help them communicate that message to the world,” Kling says.
She adds, “Writing a book is the ultimate entrepreneurial endeavor. It requires total solitude.” She pauses and concludes, “Life is a story. Writing is a way to help someone with theirs.”