Here’s the thing. If you’re a coach or a speaker looking to write a book, your readers (a.k.a. potential clients) want to know that you’ve overcome the same challenges that they’re currently facing. They want to know that you’ve had your own on-your-knees moment—that horrible moment when you recognized that something had to change; that you couldn’t go on the way you had been; that the status quo was no longer a viable option.
This horrible moment often represents total failure. It represents pain, Pain Island, as Vrinda Normand likes to call it.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, we open with Elizabeth in the bathroom on her knees, literally and figuratively. She’s praying to God for an answer to her gut-wrenching dilemma: She doesn’t want to be married anymore, but she can’t seem to justify asking for a divorce. This is the moment that sets her on that famous, cross-continent journey to healing and self-discovery.
It’s a wonderful example of Pain Island.
Pain Island often involves the personal stuff we’d prefer to hide: affairs, eating disorders, heroin addiction, bankruptcy, you catch my drift. And even if the catalyst for change isn’t quite so dramatic, most of us expert types are reluctant to share such experiences, because we don’t like to admit that we haven’t always had our act together.
But the shameful stuff—the cat doo we’d like to hide in the litter box—is actually the stuff that sells. That’s the stuff that bonds your reader to you; that allows them to feel a little less alone in this great, big, complicated world; less judged, more understood.
Think back. What did that on-your-knees-moment look like for you? Where were you? What was going on in your head? What were you feeling? Who was with you? What were you saying? What did you hear, touch, or smell? Place us in that moment with you. Paint us a scene.
By the way, Pain Island is likely the introduction for your book. The beginning point for both you and your reader. This is the beginning of the journey. That kick in the pants that gets you, the hero, moving forward on your quest for a solution.
Remember, every good story begins with pain. Readers want to know what the problem is right away. They don’t want to wade through thirty-nine pages, or chapters, to figure that out. Without a problematic situation, or ten, there’s no story. Game over. The book gets tossed.
Here’s where things can get sticky. If you’re over the age of five, you’ll have lots of on-your-knees moments from which to choose. But the moment I want you to choose must be relevant to the big result you sell.
My Pain Island has little room for that moment my Iranian husband took a second wife. It has everything to do with shoving my memoir in the bottom drawer after having it turned down by a few big-time agents. Of seeing my husband get his book published before me, and garnering all of those kudos. Because the big result I’m selling involves writing and publishing a book.
This is the defining moment, the beginning of your journey towards creating that one big result for yourself. What is that moment for you?
About the author:
Ann Sheybani is the author of How to Eat the Elephant: Build Your Book in Bite-Sized Steps. She received her Masters in Creative Writing from Harvard University. One of our certified Book Yourself Solid® coaches, she’s also a book coach with a sales and marketing bent. She helps speakers and coaches create powerful, client-attracting books.