Business leaders often have unique visions and management advice. Sharing them — as, say, a podcast host or a keynote speaker or an author — can enhance their personal brands and promote their companies’ work.
But finding the time to put your thoughts into words may seem impossible. The secret lies in establishing discretionary time dedicated to creative thinking and reaching goals.
“I protect [my time] like a mama bear, because nobody else is going to protect it for me,” says Stacy Ennis, CEO of the coaching practice Creatively. “It’s a space where I get to be creative. I get to be strategic. I get to learn. … There are no meetings in that space.”
Ennis has written more than a dozen books, including the best-seller “Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact.” She is a writing coach, who has helped nearly 50 executives and entrepreneurs write their first books. She also hosts the podcast Beyond Better.
While Ennis recommends carving out two hours of discretionary time every day, she notes that even 15 or 30 minutes can help execs achieve their goals — including writing a book.
She also describes discretionary time as a practice and skill. Initially when someone uses free time to write, they may only put 100 words on a page. “If they keep up their habits, within a couple of weeks, they’re going to see that continue to increase,” she says. Ennis recommends creating a replicable routine to start.
“There’s really good scientific research that tells us that these collective habits are actually building new neural pathways,” she says. “So when we sit down at the same time with the same set of habits, we become more productive.”
Here are three suggestions from Ennis to get you started:
- Don’t check your phone, email or social media. Even reading the news can allow your mind to wander.
- Start your creative time with the same rituals. Ennis begins her discretionary time by drinking 18 ounces of water, stretching and reading something inspiring for 10 minutes. That routine puts her in the proper headspace to create.
- Stack as many of your meetings as you can into a set timeframe in the afternoon. This will create more windows in your day for productivity and help you find space for discretionary time.
Read excerpts from Senior Executive Media’s interview with Stacy Ennis below for more tips on writing your first book.
There is this process of introspection, of intentionality, of depth of thought that is just amazingly profound.Stacy Ennis, Author and Writing Coach
Senior Executive Media: Why should every business leader consider writing books?
Stacy Ennis: There is this process of introspection, of intentionality, of depth of thought that is just amazingly profound. How often during the day are you just quiet with your own thoughts? It’s probably minutes — not hours. So during the process of writing a book, people get to be with their own thoughts, with themselves, for hours over days, weeks and months. The internal result is that they end up with this grounded confidence. They develop new language around their ideas.
Senior Executive Media: Book revenue rarely comes from selling copies. What’s the return on investment of writing a book?
Stacy Ennis: A lot of times people, especially people who are writing their first book or aspire to become an author, do the wrong equation when they’re trying to figure out ROI, which is [saying], “Okay, if I spend this much money on hiring a coach and going through the process…how many books do I need to sell?”
When I think about the ROI of a book, it’s potential new revenue streams — often from uncovering new frameworks, turning them into programs or keynotes or new client opportunities. There’s the PR around a book launch that is so powerful for a brand.
Senior Executive Media: How can execs build the time to write a book?
Stacy Ennis: There’s this myth that to write a book, you need to set aside six hours every Saturday, or you need to go for a week or two on vacation. The rule that I teach is “less time more often.” People are better off spending 30 minutes a day, over four to five days, than they are spending five hours on Saturdays, because of the way that our brains work.
It can be really difficult, especially if you’re in a company that crams your calendar with meetings. But it is possible to build in that space to write a book or to do strategic thinking or to journal… You need to check in with your life and say, “What can I set aside for a little bit?” Maybe you’re not going to go out on the weekends with people for a little while, because you’re getting up early every day to write. Maybe you need to have a discussion with your team that you work with to protect 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. every morning.
From a benchmark perspective, I would love to see everybody with two hours of discretionary time every day. But if you can only work in 30 to 60 minutes, and you follow those habits that will guide you into focus, that’s still a really powerful amount of time. And you can still do something like write a book.
Senior Executive Media: How can execs decide what they should write about?
Stacy Ennis: When I work specifically with clients, we actually start with a life-visioning activity — 10 years, five years out and one year out. The other piece that you have to define is what your zone of genius is. [Find a book topic that] both draws on that genius that you have and helps you achieve that big vision for impact.
Get really crystal-clear on the book concept and core message. Who is that one reader? Get clear about that reader that can be most influenced by the book. Align that one reader’s needs with that big vision. What are the key takeaways? Then, build a solid outline for your book…and then create a detailed plan with deadlines. That’s before you even start sitting down and writing.
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Senior Executive Media: What does working with a writing coach actually look like?
Stacy Ennis: Writing coaches act as an accountability partner. They shortcut the time because they’re able to come in and teach you how to write a book. Writing a book is a learnable skill. Great book coaches, when you’re done working with them, you’ll know how to write a book. You’ll have a new skill. … They help you with setting goals. They help you with building out a plan for success. They meet with you regularly. Sometimes coaches will review your writing along the way.
A book coach or writing coach would be somebody who supports you from idea to finished draft. Some coaches will stay with you all through publication. It depends on where that coach’s sweet spot is.
What I find is that people who try to go it alone will take 10 years to write their book. I’ve seen this over and over again. People that work with me, for example, we get it done in about four to five months. That’s without destroying and blowing up their lives.
Senior Executive Media: How much should executives expect to spend on a writing coach?
Stacy Ennis: It really varies widely, and it depends on scope. If a coach… is actually coming in and working on the draft with you — they’re editing it, they’re helping shape it — that can be tens of thousands of dollars.
You can usually expect to pay somewhere in the thousands — $2,000 to $4,000 on a monthly basis. … There are other ways that you can engage with a coach. For example, we have a group coaching format that is $5,000 for 12 weeks.
Senior Executive Media: When do you recommend a ghostwriter?
Stacy Ennis: There are situations where it makes complete sense for somebody to bring in a ghostwriter. An example could be a busy executive who has really no interest in developing her or his writing skill. Maybe they have a great idea, compelling story, something to write about and a really big vision that the book aligns perfectly with. But for them, it doesn’t really make sense to invest the time and energy into learning the skill of book writing.
[Or] if they’re verbal thinkers — that ghostwriting process is interview-based for them. It’s actually way more efficient and effective to speak the book aloud and then get the draft.