5 hurdles that distinguish authors from experts

Some people are awesome at what they do. Other people are just as excellent, but they can write a book about it. Let’s take a close look at what makes the difference.

To start, I want you to think about the thing you know that nobody else seems to know, the thing you are passionate about. That might be laying bricks, it might be social media marketing, or it might be coding machine learning applications.

Think about that talent and how you might share it. Let’s see how far you can go.

1 See the problem

Can you describe the problem you solve? For example:

“I help people in their fifties figure out how to retire happy.”

or

“I help marketers who want to keep their stack of technologies as effective as possible.”

If you can’t clearly describe the problem you solve, read this, it will help.

Both experts and authors must be adept at describing the problem clearly.

2 Become awesome at solving the problem

It’s one thing to solve the problem once. It’s another to solve it 100 times.

Experts are the ones who’ve solved the problem so many times that they can handle any variation on it.

That means that you can help marketers in financial services or retail, in Sweden or Kansas. Or you can help people experiencing a midlife crisis whether it happens at 32 or 57, and whether they’re housewives or CEOs. Or you can help fix absolutely anything with wheels and pedals.

If you can do this well, you are an expert. But you might not be the kind of person who could be an author . . . unless you can do the rest of the steps.

3 Understand how you do what you do

My client Seth Earley recently made me aware of the difference between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge.

Tacit knowledge is what makes it possible for the wide receiver to know just when and how to jump to receive the ball hurtling through the air.

Explicit knowledge is what makes it possible for the coach to explain to wide receivers how to position themselves and how to think about that jump.

Knowing the best way to do something takes experience. But knowing how to explain how you do what you do takes more — it means you know why you do things a certain way. It means you’ve been introspective about your skill.

The expert may tell someone to do what they do a certain way “Because I said so.” The expert who knows how how her knowledge works also understands causes and effects, relationships, when to use which techniques, and how these things will change as the knowledge evolves.

That means making tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.

4 Explain your knowledge

Just because you understand how things work doesn’t mean you can explain it.

Explaining the knowledge means breaking down your explicit understanding into steps.

It means being able to explain the base understanding that anyone following in your footsteps needs to go forward. It also means explaining how to start from that base understanding and build on it.

Knowing is hard enough. Communicating what you know is another level of expertise.

5 Write it down

Lots of people can explain what they know, but can’t put it down well in words.

This is not about a facility with words. Many great nonfiction writers aren’t actually great writers. Instead, they’re great at having insights and explaining those insights, and they have editors to help them get the words right.

If you can put down your logical, analytical knowledge in writing, you’re not just an expert. You’re an author — at least potentially.

There’s nothing wrong with being an expert. It’s a great way to be fulfilled in your job. But an author is something more.

If you have cleared these five hurdles, you’re ready to get started on a book. Now all you have to do is write it.

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