The first time I told a man to hide his knives in the freezer, I felt pretty stupid. The second time, I managed to say it with more confidence. By then, I knew it was a strangely helpful tactic to slow someone down when they’re considering slicing their wrists open.

Of course, it won’t stop someone who’s determined. But having to trudge down to the chest freezer in the basement, open the door, rifle past bags of ice and frozen pizza pops, then warm up your freezing cold fingers… well, it makes the whole thing longer. And the extra time creates space to think or call for help.

The freezer trick is one of many weird things I learned while training to respond to calls on our local crisis and suicide prevention hotline.

Another weird one? You’re not allowed to tell a teenage girl holding a bottle of pills, “Your mom would miss you if you killed yourself.”

Sadly, you can’t know if her mom would miss her.

The mom might be a horrible human being with no care for her depressed daughter.

Instead, you’re trained to ask, "Is there anyone who would miss you if you killed yourself?” The girl knows her own life best, so you ask questions which prompt her to consider all aspects of it.

Asking questions in business

Ask questions to brainstorm your book ideas.

When I took Make it Work Online, a business coaching intensive from Jenny Shih, the program’s coaches encouraged participants to ask each other questions.

When we wrote copy for our websites, we got incredible, personal feedback from professional copywriters, but we were also required to ask our peers for input. Sounds dangerous, no?

Do you really want the blind leading the blind? Bad writers giving writing advice?

My concern around this peer-review requirement abated when I read The Rules.

Yes, there were rules, just like when you’re in school. (However, there were no school bullies, and no one got gum in their hair, as far as I know.)

First, we were told to give more feedback than we got, so the cycle escalated and no one missed out. Then, we were instructed to ask questions.

A key tenet of copywriting is to eliminate jargon. So you don’t “facilitate dialogue between spouses in discord.” You “help arguing couples talk it out.” As a group, we spent a loooong time analyzing our word choices to ensure they weren’t jargon-y.

But we didn’t say, “Don’t use that word.”

We asked, “Does your ideal client use that word?”

From questions, progress comes

It’s the same concept as that of the suicide prevention hotline. You offer power when you guide instead of dictate. You give respect when you ask instead of announce. From that, progress is borne.

So that’s what I do with clients. When we’re brainstorming their book idea, I ask questions, a ton of questions, about their work, their clients, and their goals.

I don’t tell them their book should say. They are the expert in their field, and they know their subject matter best. Instead, I listen, ask questions, and prompt them to consider all angles. Sometimes I play devil’s advocate and ask why their idea matters. Questions encourage explanation.

Then I merge their answers with my knowledge of what makes a great book, and we create something fantastic.

Questions create encouragement

It’s been a while since I’ve taken calls for the suicide prevention hotline. My baby boy arrived, so I had to cut back on my commitments. I miss it.

“But wasn’t it depressing?” people ask.

It was actually really encouraging,” I say.

You get on the phone with someone, and they’re in a really dark moment. They’re desperate. They don’t know if they’ll see morning.

By the time you say goodbye, they’re doing better.

They’re not “fixed;” it’s impossible to provide long-term, mental health support in short, sporadic phone calls. But they’re confident they’ll make it through the darkness and see sunlight again. And they’re grateful for the help.

Except, I didn’t “help” in the traditional sense. I didn’t do things for them, or issue advice.

I listened. And I asked questions.

Ask yourself some questions.

If you’re planning a book, ask yourself some questions. Get others to ask you questions. Don’t stay stuck. Get questioning.

Want some help? Shoot me an email and I’ll ask you some questions!


Need to talk about suicide?

Ask questions to brainstorm your book idea.

If you need to talk to someone about suicide, mental health, or any kind of crisis, click here to find your local crisis phone number.

You’re not alone. Please talk to someone. It helps.

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