The Art of War or War & Peace? Should your book be short and punchy or long and deep?

Sun Tzu’s book on the art of military strategy, The Art of War, which has been adopted in modern times as a classic instruction booklet on business strategy, conveys all its wisdom in 78 sparsely printed pages.

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, by contrast clocks in at 1,296 pages — almost 17 times as long Sun Tzu’s classic, and certainly more than that by word count.

These are both books about war, but oh how different they are.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu outlines key principles of military strategy in bullet point form under succinct and descriptive chapter headings. In large degree, the interpretation of the instructions is left to the reader. Sun Tzu provides the what, but not the how. However, this is also a strength of the book, as it makes it adaptable to various realms, most famously business.

War and Peace contains hundreds of pages of exhaustively detailed description of military movements and materiel, along with the thinking and strategy of military leaders, but that’s not its main purpose. Rather, the book serves as the vehicle for Tolstoy to express his ideas about war, the human condition and free will — philosophies, beliefs and perspectives that had developed and evolved through his personal experiences and observations of war and of life. As Virginia Woolf wrote in admiration: “There is hardly any subject of human experience that is left out of War and Peace.”

The reader can draw lessons on military strategy from War and Peace, but the reader cannot gain deep understanding of human experience from The Art of War.

For anyone who wants to write a book that conveys their knowledge, experience, philosophy, ideas, achievements in a way that will impact their readers’ lives, this is a choice you have to make.

Can I just skim the surface? Or is there more I want to express?

If there is, then you need to commit fully and dive all the way in.

The reason a book is so different from a keynote speech or any other type of verbal presentation is that with a book, not only can you go deeper and longer and the reader will stay with you, but it actually forces you to go deeper. It forces you to find words for those things that exist in your head, but not in the form of words.

A book also liberates you from the need to simplify everything to be comprehended in an instant. “There’s your brilliant mind and your speaking mind,” says award-winning leadership speaker and best-selling author Pegine, “where you have to take your brilliant mind and synthesize it down to bits that the average person in the audience can understand — you have to bring it down to an elementary school level.”

You have so much vast knowledge about your life or your work, but you can’t include all of that in a speech, because it’s way too much. As Pegine puts it, “Well, which part of my life do you want me to talk about?”

Through a book, you, like Tolstoy, can fully express your brilliant mind, as well as all the parts of your life that have contributed to your becoming who you are, achieving what you’ve achieved, and knowing what you know.

What if you don’t believe you have a brilliant mind? If you’re thinking of writing a book, then you have something to say. It’s likely the brilliance of it isn’t yet apparent to you, because you haven’t yet dug deep. It’s in the digging that we unearth the gold.

Once you start to articulate what you’ve been doing for twenty or thirty years, it forces you to really identify what it is and to find a way to express it clearly so that other people can understand it and use it themselves.

The unifying focus of War and Peace, explains Cliff Notes, “lies within the mind of its author, in his endless lifetime search to extract a single truth out of the profusion of specific experiences.”

You, too, have a truth to share. Shall we dig?

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