Sunday, January 23, 2011


I just made a classical writer's mistake. I rushed out to the family room to tell my husband the fantastic name of a new book I intend to write, starting today, and he said, “EEEYOOOGH!” Exactly the way a teenager says "EEEYOOOGH!" when you suggest he abandon his texting and start writing his term paper. Or maybe that he pull his jeans up to somewhere near his waist.

I don’t know how to spell that sound, but I recognize it when I hear it--and so do you! Every published author has heard that dismaying noise at one time or another, so we all know how it strikes the ear, even if we can't capture it letter by letter. It’s the sound of No Way, You’ve Got to be Kidding, or worse . . . That’s a Rotten Idea If I’ve Ever Heard One.

My idea for the new book fizzled like a party balloon with a tiny pin prick. The creative air seeped out, faster and faster, and I just stood there, dismayed. And finally I even said it. “Well, I’ve just broken the first rule of creativity.” Rob simply looked at me. He doesn’t know the rule, and he wouldn’t care about it if he knew. But he’ll gladly give me his first reaction to what he considers a bad title.

Have you caught on to the rule?

In case you haven’t, the rule is, Never share the first blush of a creative idea with ANYONE. Not until you’ve got it all down on paper, until the thing is mostly written and you can’t unwrite it.

If it was a dumb idea in the first place, you’ll soon know. If it wasn’t a dumb idea, you risk letting someone kill your baby while it’s still in the womb.

Everyone who writes knows this rule, and no one better than I. My inner voice said, “Don’t share this,” and I should have listened, but I didn’t, I rushed out to expose my great idea to toxic fumes. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

I finally said, “Nora Ephron’s published book is called, ‘I Remember Nothing.’ Do you think that’s a good title?" And he said No.

Well, that was some comfort, anyway. I’m sure Ephron has sold a million copies of this very funny book with the dumb title. Except I happen to love it, bad title and all.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Probably not. If you have doubts, you are certainly not ready.

It’s an impatient world out there—too many of us with too much to do. Too many newspapers to read, phone calls to make, e-mails to answer, meals to cook, minutes to spend exercising, dishes to wash.

And besides, you’re writing a book. (Or maybe something shorter.)

How much time did you give your writing? One edit? Two? Possibly three?

How many people have read it? And what did they say?

“This is interesting.” “I like it.” “You’ve done a good job.” “Nice article.” “An okay first chapter.” “Keep going.”

“Interesting” doesn’t cut it. Nor do any of the other comments. These people are your friends, and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But their level of enthusiasm is tepid. And you know tepid when you see it.

Your piece is clearly not good enough. None of these people are raving. So all you’ve done is make a decent first start. A dent. But the thing is not publishable. Not even close.

If you go “out there” with this work, even spend money to get it published, nobody will make the effort to read more than a few pages. (Except, maybe, your three best friends and your mother.) You will have spent time and energy on a piece of writing that needs lots more work.

Now wait!! Don’t throw it away. Your idea is probably worth keeping. It’s worth re-working. It’s worth cutting, enriching, dissecting, made funnier. You are no dummy, you doubtless have unusual and interesting thoughts. Your work deserves to be read by others. Trust me on that one. Or rather, trust yourself. If you’re reading this, you are not a throw-away writer.

The stark reality that few of us fully grasp is—good writing takes a ton of work. More work than any newbie ever imagines. It takes more refinement, more re-working, more polishing than most of us dreamed would be necessary. It takes more tweaking than a Lamborghini.

But all that effort is a must. Unless you’re willing to edit obsessively, your piece will never be ready for the larger world. Which means most people won’t read it. So what’s the point?

Okay, then, you’ve gone over your work a dozen times. It’s finally begun to thrill you, to capture even your over-exposed attention. You honestly believe it reads like the best stuff you’ve seen elsewhere. So you give it back to your friends.

Geronimo! Their critiques have changed. “This is great!” “I love it!” “Powerful!” “I’ve given it to all my friends!” “Wonderful!” “Couldn’t stop reading!” “I stayed up all night!”

These are the critiques that should send you to a publisher. Immediately.