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When I was a teenager, I bought Juggling for the Complete Klutz. It came with three red beanbags. A couple of days later, I could juggle them.
To this day, that stands as my greatest learning experience (sorry, Amherst!). In fact, my goal as a writer and editor is to bring whatever I’m working on up to the level of Juggling for the Complete Klutz (sorry, clients!).
I hope you’re not scoffing. This slim book has sold more than 3 million copies. More important, it has successfully taught people something. There are many million-copy bestsellers that can’t claim that.
Juggling for the Complete Klutz has gone through a few editions over its three decades. Still, it remains 78 pages of friendly prose and clear illustrations. It gives you what you need to start—three beanbags—and tells you step-by-step how to learn to juggle them. (Not how to juggle them, but how to learn to juggle them.)
What stands between every book of practical nonfiction and this splendid achievement?
Assuming they have something useful to teach—the less said there, the better—experts still resist sharing what they know. They worry, consciously or not, that when a book explains things quickly and clearly, readers learn too easily and then don’t sufficiently value its author. Then they might not feel compelled to buy more books (and online courses and consulting and branded T-shirts and coffee mugs).
Next thing you know, the thought-leader hamster wheel has ground to a halt!
Sometimes, when I suggest giving away content for free to build an audience, authors will moan about all the effort they’ve put into accumulating their knowledge. The tens of thousands of dollars spent on market research, the years of academic study, the corporate-ladder rungs climbed. Some dude learns something useful about change management or marketing and all of a sudden he’s Gollum with his Precious.
Even when their findings are sold legitimately in the form of a book, authors still resent this packaging up of their expertise, the handing-it-overiness of it all. So, often unintentionally, they obfuscate when they write, holding back the germs of truth and promising solutions they never deliver. They pufferize and jargonate. Then, puzzled by the mess they’ve created, they hire an editor.
The alchemists thought this way, too, writing everything in complex code for fear the unworthy might learn their secrets. For fear any idiot could become an alchemist.
We know how that worked out for the alchemy trade.
Tell people what you know as clearly and simply as you can. You know more than you think you do, but right now you’re clogging up your own pipes clinging to ideas that are only as useful as they are spread. No one will ever adequately compensate you for all that you’ve given them with your book—as you could never compensate all the authors of all the books you’ve ever read to get you where you are. It’s the circle of life, Simba. Hakuna matata.
Besides, you don’t need to worry about idiots learning what you know. This is America. We’ll make more idiots.