Bikram Choudhury (love him or loathe him) is the world’s most infamous yoga instructor who built a wildly successful business based on just 26 yoga postures. So what can Bikram yoga teach us about writing a book?
There’s a bit of a joke bandied around the Bikram community that goes something like this:
After the 50-minute, cardio-intense standing series, everyone in the class sits down on the floor, somewhat exhausted, grabs water and turns around to lay down. A new person in the class, who hasn’t done Bikram before, let’s out a deep sigh, flops to the mat, head in hands as if to say ‘Thank god that’s over’.
The teacher replies: ‘Congratulations new person, you’ve just completed the warm up, this is where the real yoga begins…’
Bikram Choudhury refers to the first half of the class as ‘the warm up’ because it’s where the hardest work takes place. Our bodies take time to acclimatise to the heat; we need to get out of our heads and find our flow.
Now imagine if you began the class without any water, a yoga mat or if you tried to do it with woollen socks and a beanie on. You’d look weird (or hardcore) and be totally ill prepared for what was to come.
Writing a book without a plan, a contents page or even an idea of how you would pitch your book to a publisher is a lot like that.
One of the most costly mistakes I see thought leaders and business experts make, especially if it’s their first book, is that they just begin writing. There’s no strategy, structure, story or any plan in place. They skip the warm up and go straight to the deepest back bend – ouch.
While this is good for motivation – you’re actually writing and getting words down, yay! – on the flipside it’s likely most of what you write will end up worthless waffle or dinner to the delete key. It means you’ll spend a lot of time with an editor back stepping to fix up what wasn’t done in the beginning. Often, you’ll have to begin your book all over again.
A great writing plan, contents page or book proposal to a publisher is a fluid document that changes as you write. It helps you determine what content goes in and, more importantly, what content does not because it’s leading you off track.
Your aim is to continually revisit your contents page or writing plan and use it to reassess your choice of content.
Your initial contents page will likely look very different from the one that eventually gets published, but without a plan at the beginning, your book will end up a brain dump of your entire working history or experience.
This is probably going to be the first of many books, of many messages and ideas, which is why you need to plan your content wisely. Being prepared for what’s to come will help you to get creative and leverage your work elsewhere – blog posts, videos, online courses, whitepapers, marketing campaigns and – dare I say – other books.
It might take a bit more time than you expect in the beginning, but it’ll save you any costly mistakes or injuries in the long run.