Why Listening Must Come Before Writing

Editor’s Note: This is a guest article by Keith Ferrin, who is an author, blogger, and speaker. You can connect with him on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter @KeithFerrin. His new book came out this spring.

I had it all figured out. I knew what I was going to write — a simple little eBook I would give away to people who subscribed to my blog. Somewhere between 5000 and and 800 words.

Not only that, but it was going to be easy.

Listen Before Writing
Photo Credit: Fey Ilyas via Compfight cc

After all, I’ve been speaking on the topic for almost two decades. This would be a simple, short compilation of my most practical tips and illustrations. It certainly wouldn’t take longer than a month to write, and maybe another month to let people read, review, and share it.

Yep. I knew exactly what this was going to be. (Ignore that chuckling sound. It’s just God. He does that to me a lot.)

Asking for help

In a rare moment of clarity, I decided to write a blog post about what I was planning and ask readers for help.

Mainly, I wanted ideas of what to include in case I was leaving out something important. I thought there would be a handful of responses, and I would crank this out quickly.

I had no idea what would follow:

  • “Do you remember the time you spoke about…? “
  • “What about this story…?”
  • “Have you thought about a study guide?”
  • “I know seven people already I want to give this to.”

The biggest surprise came when I was telling someone about the book and he replied,

What if I donated some money so you could create a video series for this? 

Um. Yes, please.

Creating a community

At this point, I knew had to push “pause” and continue these conversations elsewhere. So I started a private Facebook page to further flesh these ideas out before writing my book.

I sent one email to my mailing list, thinking a dozen or so people would join the group. It ended up being 98.

The results with the book (so far) have been incredible:

  • It ended up three times as lo2eng as I originally imagined.
  • There’s a print version.
  • There’s an audio version.
  • On April 18, 2013 “10 Tips for Liking the Bible (Because Believing It’s True Is Not Enough)” was released. (The title might be the only thing that hasn’t changed.)
  • It ended the day at #4 in its category on Amazon.
  • There’s a 50-page Study Guide for individuals and groups.
  • Several bloggers who write on a whole host of topics are helping me spread the word.
  • Filming for the video series begins next month!

Here’s the takeaway: None of this would have happened if I hadn’t listened before I wrote.

This experience of writing my latest book taught me three important lessons about listening that, quite frankly, I had neglected.

1. Until you listen, you don’t know what your audience wants

I thought I knew. And yes, I knew some of what they wanted.

But I had no idea what they were most passionate about. What had to be in there. What could be left out.

After sitting down with people — as well as reading emails, blog comments, Facebook posts, and Twitter messages — I knew.

2. Until you listen, you won’t be as good as you could be

My launch team taught me this one. (If you are a writer and you’re considering a launch team — do it. It’s a blast.)

The quantity of mistakes they caught in my first draft were, well, embarrassing. They were also necessary. Typos. Wrong words. Missing words. Analogies that didn’t stick. Sentences that didn’t flow. You name it, they caught it.

Simply put: The book is heaps better because I listened to them.

3. Until you listen, you don’t know what’s possible

This one is huge. Listening helps you dream.

Your audience will see possibilities you pass over. They will tell you what “could” be. They will let you know what they want and need from you. They will share their expectations.

What better way to exceed expectations than to know them ahead of time?

They will also give you a testing ground for all those ideas.

Next time you think you know what you’re going to write, push pause and listen to your audience.

Who knows? They might even offer to fund a video project.

Note: This was so above and beyond what I expected, I’ve decided to GIVE AWAY the book for the rest of the year. Grab your copy here.

What’s one project you’re currently working on that could benefit from a little more listening? Share in the comments.

Keith is an author, blogger, and speaker. You can connect with him on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter @KeithFerrin.

Hi, I’m Jeff. Can I send you something?

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