How do I know I’m a good writer? — Frequent Questions

Q: How do I know I’m a good writer?
A: Have you read the internet lately?

good writerI read a lot. More than the average person, though perhaps less than my most brilliant friends.

But all that time with my nose buried in a book (hmm…that metaphor doesn’t work as well in a digital world) my iPad has taught me one thing: there are all kinds of writers out there. And forget about self-published writers—some of the work being put out by major publishing houses would have barely gotten a 73 at my high school.

We fetishize published writers. But just because some company gives a writer an advance and slaps their work between hard covers before refusing to spend a dime to publicize it…Sorry, where was I? Right: Just because a writer scores a publishing contract doesn’t mean the writing is any good.

Read. Read widely. You’ll see what I mean.

Some writers encrust great ideas in so much turgid prose that you need to spend 20 minutes chipping it away before you can begin to see the dim outlines of the argument. Yet those writers get published. Others write clear, breezy, amusing prose that’s utterly devoid of ideas. They get published too.

I’m not naming names—God knows, someone could mine this blog for plenty of examples of less-than-stellar prose. But I will be using some published passages in my upcoming master class on revision. (You can get a taste of it in a free webinar on June 21st.)

A good writer ships

So if you find yourself making a distinction between yourself and “real” writers (and we both know when you say “real” you mean “published”)—stop. Just stop.

You know what the difference is between you and the “real” writers? They shipped. They shoved their work out of the nest. They shared it, opened themselves up for criticism, yes. And also for praise. Undoubtedly, they deserved some of each—most of us do.

So how do you know if you’re a good writer? You write. You revise. You ship. And then you listen—to people you trust, to people whose writing is as good as or (preferably) better than yours. And you revise again.

But put your work out in the world. Especially if one of your trusted advisors says it’s time.

You’re probably a better writer than you think you are. Better, even, than some “real” writers. So go ahead—ship it.


Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.

How do I lose the academic writing style? —Frequent Questions

Q: How do I lose the academic writing style?
A: Stop writing.

I know my initial answers to these Frequent Questions tend toward the flippant, but with this one I’m dead serious.

One of the best ways to knock the stuffiness out of your writing style is to talk through your ideas. Write out loud.

Now, I’m not talking about improvising. Please in the name of all that is good, do not improvise your talk. Unless you’re a member of Second City or the Upright Citizens Brigade, in which case I wish you Godspeed.

But unless you speak like an academic 24/7, you should be able to find a more informal way to talk through your ideas. Try it as if you were chatting with a colleague. (But make sure it’s someone you like.) Record your conversation, transcribe it, and the next day go back and sort out the great stuff you can use as is, the stuff you can make great with a little tinkering, and the stuff that needs to go in the Outtakes folder I’ve written about before.

Once you’ve translated your thoughts into English from the original Academese, make sure the level of detail works for your audience. Have you fallen afoul of the Curse of Knowledge the Heath Brothers talk about in their book Made to Stick? If you think you may be getting into the weeds with details, find a bright 10-year-old (real or imaginary) and talk through your ideas again.

Academic writing won’t fly when you’re out of school

Academics are not the only people who write like academics. Anyone who’s been trained by an academic will write like one, too. At least until they hit the real world and realize no one’s reading what they write.

After I spoke at the conference last weekend, several people told me that writing frustrated them because they hadn’t been able to shake the academic writing style.

That’s an easy fix: Just write more. And not just about work. Go outside your lane once in a while and write something completely different—a poem, a silly story, a meditation on the letter U.

Just 15 minutes a day will make a huge difference over time.


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I’m afraid of writing. How can I push back? — Frequent Questions

Q: I’m afraid of writing. How can I push back?
A: Didn’t your mother tell you it’s not nice to push?

I realized the other day that I was doing it again: procrastinating. Day after day, this project appeared on my To-Do List. Day after day, it remained the only thing not crossed off.

And then I realized: Dammit, I’m afraid.

Afraid of writing? “The less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.” Elizabeth GilbertI’ve been doing this writing thing for a long time now. You’d think by now I’d recognize fear when it came calling. I do generally recognize it faster than before—that’s progress. (This piece isn’t due for another three weeks). But still, it chagrined me that Fear was able to slip on a trench coat and a fake mustache and slip right past my defenses. I tell myself I should know better by now.

Oh, one more thing. This project I was afraid to start? It’s a presentation I’m giving. About courage.

Afraid of writing? Join the club

Everybody feels fear around their writing from time to time. Whether it’s fear of starting to write, fear of your subject matter, fear of inadequacy…Fear, like the British royal family heading to a wedding, wears many hats. If only it would adopt their distinctive wave too, it would be so much easier to spot.

The best way to get over fear of starting to write is—you will not be surprised—to write. Make a commitment to just 15 minutes a day, every day. If that feels too long, do 10—or even 5. But do it. Find an accountability partner, or join a group. I’m in the middle of leading a 5-day Writing Challenge right now. But you can sign up to hear about the next challenge I’m launching. And proceeds go to charity—so if doing something good for yourself isn’t motivation enough, do something good for someone else.

If you’ve got it in your head that you’re not creative, or you don’t deserve to spend the time on yourself, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote her book Big Magic especially for you. Seriously. Read it this minute.

One thing I often remind my coaching clients—and it’s something that helped me when I was so afraid of writing that I never did it—is:

No one needs to see it.

I emphasize this to take away the fear that someone will read your writing and say negative things about it. Also to stop you from saying negative things about it pre-emptively. While you’re creating, you can keep your writing safe and secure in your computer. Unless you print it out or email it somewhere, no one needs to see it.

But…

Someone does need to see it eventually

First maybe a teacher. A writing group. We all improve with constructive feedback.

But don’t get so caught up in this semi-private feedback loop that you never open your work up to the public.

Trust your instinct, yes. But don’t trust your fear. If your writing group says it’s good, if your coach says it’s good—then push your little bird of a draft out of the nest and publish it. Start a blog. Put it up on Medium or HuffPo. This gets easier the more you do it. Validation awaits you—and validation feels so much better than fear.

If your writing is stuck in the closet, read Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work! I’m not usually a fan of exclamation points, but this subject deserves one.

Write! Now!


Want to communicate more courageously? Click here to get my e-book Do It Anyway: Tips for Courageous Writing

“I did some really good writing yesterday. What do I do today?” — Frequent Questions

Q: I did some really good writing yesterday. But what do I do today? It’s hard to get started.
A: Grab a crayon.

I know the feeling. It’s far easier for writers to think our work is crap—because so much of our work is crap. It’s even, I just found out, a law of nature: Sturgeon’s Law. As with so much else in this world, if you go to the primary source you find that the Law is actually a Revelation. In 1958, Sturgeon wrote:

“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap.”

Here we have yet another clear case of eroding quality in the modern world. When Rudyard Kipling voiced a similar opinion back in the 19th century, he only damned 80% of creative output:

“Four–fifths of everybody’s work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake.”

But I digress. Whether your work is 80% or 90% crap, the non-crap portion remains firmly in the minority. So when you manage to turn out something you like—and that other people will (or already do!) like—you not only have a visceral appreciation of Kipling’s assessment that it’s “worth the trouble for its own sake.” You also have genuine cause for celebration, my friend.

Don’t let good writing yesterday overshadow any writing today

So you did some good writing yesterday. Congratulations.

But you do realize you still have to write today. And, yes, it may turn out to be not nearly as good as the writing you did yesterday. In fact, the laws of probability—not to mention Sturgeon—tell us it won’t be. Them’s the breaks.

But there’s good news, too. Every word you write today gets you closer to the golden 20% of non-crap that you turned out in your good writing yesterday.

Oh, I know, I know—all you want to do is open up that doc from yesterday and revisit your glory. You could spend all day doing that. I’ve been there. In fact, I am there at this very moment.

I wrote something really great yesterday. I’m justifiably proud of myself. But re-reading yesterday’s writing doesn’t get today’s writing done.

But I don’t have any ideas, the voice in my head whined. So I embraced process instead: I usually do a Q&A on Wednesdays, but I didn’t post a blog yesterday because of the Day Without Women. So, calendar be damned, I declared today as “WTF? Wednesday” (that’s how I settled on the day for this regular feature: I gave it a private nickname). Then all that remained was to pick the question. And yes, okay, if you insist on full disclosure, the person who submitted this particular question is me.

There was never any question of my not writing today. Not with 316 days of a writing streak behind me and the prospect of seeing the magic 317 appear on my phone app once I’m done. Someone recently asked me when I’ll get to the one-year mark. I suppose I could do the math, but really I’m not as focused on 365 as I am on 318.

I cannot recommend the daily writing thing highly enough. This commitment I’ve made has gotten me through a lot of upheaval over the past nine-ish months, and the sense of accomplishment I feel…well, it’s hard to describe.

But I don’t have any ideas as brilliant as yesterday’s

you did good writing yesterday; try writing with a crayon todayI’m sure that’s as true for you as it is sometimes for me. So stop aiming for one. Instead, shake things up a bit.

If you always write at your desk, find another place to sit. Go outside, weather permitting. Go to the library (I’ll have more on that this weekend).

If you always write on your computer, grab a pen and a notebook. Better yet, grab a colored pencil or crayon. It’s impossible to take yourself or your problems too seriously when you’ve got a crayon in your hand.

Spend 15 minutes writing as your 10-year-old self. Don’t worry about replicating your good writing yesterday. Have some fun with your writing today.


Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.

How can I learn critical thinking? Frequent Questions

Q: How can I learn critical thinking?
A: Don’t rely on other people for your answers. (Does that include me?)

I didn’t learn “critical thinking” when I was growing up. My high school would never have taught anything so pedestrian as that. No—but we did learn to think critically. I think the school probably saw that as its highest calling—far more important that stuffing our heads full of Shakespeare or frog-marching us through The Aeneid in Latin.

The school’s unofficial mantra, memorably drummed into us by one of our teachers, was:

“We worship at the Shrine of Text.”

Translation: Don’t believe what anyone else tells you. Go to the source—the primary source—and make up your own mind about it says.

What is a “primary source”? Thanks to the Ithaca College library for this definition:

A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects. Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources.

The other kind of source we rely on in forming opinions is a “secondary source”—again, from Ithaca College, and again my own emphasis added:

Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else’s original research.

The world is full of secondary sources these days, and very many of those sources are full of—what’s that technical term? oh yeah—shit. So the first thing we need to do is figure out if the secondary source has any motivation to lie. Or, conversely, any incentive to tell the truth.

learn critical thinking

from an infographic created by SpringboardStories.co.uk

Learn critical thinking: Who said it and why?

Imagine an academic who claims he has evidence that Shakespeare was an alien from another planet. We don’t just say, “Well, he’s got a Ph.D.—he must know what he’s talking about.” No—look into his motivations.

Did he just write a book called Shakespeare, Phone Home? Do spiking his book sales and goosing interest in a movie adaptation give him motivation to lie?

Or maybe he really believes it’s the truth. That brings up another set of maybes: Maybe he’s uncovered revolutionary information; maybe he’s a nut-job. Sorry—a “Dr.” Nut Job.

How do we figure that out? We see if other credentialed Shakespeare experts will back up his story (though you have to think that’s a long shot). More likely, they’ll either expose his financial motivation or convince us that he wears tinfoil hat under his mortarboard. At that point, it’s up to you, the consumer of this news: Does his profit motive cloud the facts? Do his delusions disqualify him as an expert?

The 24/7 news cycle has sparked an explosion of secondary sources. As my Texan granddaddy used to say, “There’s more shit in the air these days than a cow pasture in a tornado.”

Well…My granddaddies were both New Yorkers. One never traveled west of Ohio, as far as I know; the other never made it past Brooklyn. And they would never in a million years have said “shit.” But it’s a good line, isn’t it?—as long as you don’t look too closely into the backstory.

And that pretty much sums up the state of much of the “news” we receive these days.

Keep asking questions

We must all learn critical thinking. And that means we must all become experts at asking questions.

Question the information you receive until you find media outlets you trust: media outlets that rely, to the greatest extent possible, on primary sources.

Look at whether the outlet has a vested interest in the outcome of the story, whether it relies on credible, credentialed experts. Whether its journalists—and their experts—back up assertions with actual facts. And in case you’ve forgotten:

“A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality.”—Merriam-Webster

After the November election, U.S. News & World Report published a story headlined “Avoid These Fake News Sites at All Costs.” The first six on the list are satire-based sites—as I pointed out months ago, the absurdities being committed by our leaders do make it harder to tell satire from facts. But U.S. News & World Report labels the majority of the other outlets on the list as “propaganda”—including InfoWars, a site that our current Republican president is known to rely on.

It’s probably too late for him to learn critical thinking, but there’s still hope for the rest of us.

The Global Digital Citizen Foundation put together a handy infographic of questions to help us learn critical thinking skills. You can download it here. And if you want to teach critical thinking skills to your children—that seems to be the sweet spot of the Global Digital Citizen Foundation—check out their simplified infographic. It ends with a reminder that applies to people of any age:

Knowledge is a journey you do over and over again.

The need for critical thinking never ends. Bon voyage!


Beef up your writing skills by writing every day. My next 5×15 Writing Challenge starts March 13th. Join us.

What’s the difference between blog-writing and writing an article? Frequent Questions

Q: What’s the difference between blog-writing and writing something like a magazine article?
A: You’re more likely to get paid for the article.

Yes, that’s a flippant answer. But any “difference” I might find would be flippant—like, “only one of them involves killing a tree.”

Writing a blog post, you have to source your own illustrations; a magazine has editors to do that for you.

A magazine editor might assign you a story; you’re on your own with your blog. And notice I said “might.” It’s much more likely that you’ll be pitching stories to the editors, at least until they put you on staff. And maybe even then.

You are editor-in-chief, fact-checker, copyeditor, and proofreader of your own blog. Magazines still have fact-checkers, copyeditors, and proofreaders on staff, don’t they? Well, the good ones do. The New Yorker even made a video of its in-house copyeditor Andrew Boynton recently, marking up the remarks Donald Trump gave at his Black History Month breakfast. That dude knows his way around a red pencil and it still took him nearly an hour to carve out something comprehensible.

But I don’t think my questioner was asking about the mechanics of publishing a blog vs. writing for a magazine. I think the real question was—does blog-writing require a different writing style?

Is blog-writing its own animal?

Different audiences expect different writing styles. What works in Foreign Affairs, for instance, would not fly in Vogue—not even the Spanish-language edition. Then again, those publications would likely not draw from the same pool of writers.

But I think we trip ourselves up if we decide that a magazine article is a completely different animal than a blog, or vice versa.

Yes, blogs can be more personal. I don’t mean that in the TMI sense; I mean you can write in the first person. You can express opinions. With a blog, you can filter the story you want to tell through your own experience. The good news is that automatically makes your writing unique—no one else has your set of experiences. The bad news, if you want to write journalism you will have to change that part of your writing style. Unless they’re paid opinionators, journalists don’t use the first person and they go out of their way to be even-handed. Sometimes too far out of their way, but that’s another subject.

Having gotten this far on my own, I decided to ask Mr. Google and discovered this, from a website called Making a Living Writing. The writer, Carol Tice, and I seem to be in agreement, except that she declares “good spelling and grammar optional” in blog posts. Well, yes, except if you want anyone to read more than one. She also says blogs are short, under 300 words. Not according to my SEO program, which chastises me if I post anything below 300 words. And some bloggers have been experimenting with longer pieces. Mine seem to be getting longer, too, though not due to any grand design.

Writing is writing

Other than a few stylistic tweaks, I don’t see much difference between blogs and magazine articles. Writing is writing. Bring your authentic self to the keyboard and give it your best shot.

Whatever you write, be scrupulously honest—and that includes citing your references and attributing quotations correctly. Check your facts, rely on primary sources whenever possible. And then just say what you need to say. If you’ve got ideas worth reading, you’ve won 90% of the battle.

blog-writing is like making blueberry muffinsIt’s like cooking. You mix up a batch of batter, add some blueberries and—hey—you’ve got blueberry pancakes! Pour pretty much the same batter into muffin tins and you’ll have blueberry muffins. Add more flour and a bigger pan and if you’re clever you can turn it into coffee cake. But fundamentally, it’s all the same thing.

You can make your words into anything you like, too. But first you have to write them. So stop worrying about the different dishes you can make and start mixing your batter.

Write now!


Like what you’re reading? Click here to keep in touch—and I’ll send you my “$100,000 Writing Lesson” as thanks.

Editing – how long should it take? Frequent Questions

Q: How much time should I spend on editing something?
A: Don’t obsess. Imperfectly finished beats perfectly unfinished every time.

Yes, edit. But make sure that editing doesn’t become a form of procrastination. Because at some point, you’re going to have to “ship,” as Seth Godin says.

editing your work is essential; don't keep it locked in a drawerDo you? If you’re writing for your own pleasure, fine—keep it locked up in a drawer for the guy at the used furniture store to find, if you want. You’ll acquire a posthumous reputation. You and Emily Dickinson can swap stories about writing over tea in the Great Hereafter.

Sharing: That’s part of the editing process too

But if you’re writing to move people, you have to let people read it. Start small. No—not with your family. Start with people whose opinions you value, whose writing you respect. Join a writing group—in-person or online. Take a writing class. Find an environment where you feel safe and share your work. You don’t have to take their reactions as gospel, but they’ll give you a good idea of where you stand. And they might even like your work more than you do. When they compliment you, don’t swat it away with, “I can do better.” Say two words: “Thank you.” And then shut up and let the compliments sink in. Because you’ve earned them.

You’ve probably also earned some criticism. And that’s okay too; it’s just part of the circle of writing life.

Learn to hear and accept constructive criticism. And yes, I know that’s always easier to type than it is to do. Writing for clients makes it remarkably easy for me to accept comments and edits. Because I’m very clear that it’s their work, not mine. And that’s bled over into my own writing as well. Mostly I’m able to hear comments as helpful suggestions, not as thinly veiled hints that I’m the worst writer in the world.

But the question we started with was how long should a writer spend on editing.

I love deadlines—and I’ve never missed one in my professional life—because they give me an excuse to stop. If you don’t have a client imposing a deadline, can you impose one on yourself? My friend Joan Garry just finished writing her first book. She says:

“I set my own deadline to get the manuscript to the publisher that was in advance of when it was actually due, so that if I blew the deadline I blew my own deadline. I didn’t blow the publisher’s deadline.”

If that doesn’t work for you, then try setting a time limit. If you spend an hour editing your one-pager and you still aren’t happy with it, step away from the computer and go for a walk. Put it away overnight. Think about other things, things that have nothing to do with writing.

Here’s another question for you:

Q: What is Beethoven doing right now?
A: Decomposing.

Sometimes when we fuss over a piece of copy like it’s the Thanksgiving chicken, we take something pretty good and turn it, word by precious word, into crap. (That’s a technical term there.)

Sometimes you need someone to gently remove the pen from your hand, or lovingly pry your fingers from the keyboard and say, “Let it rest.”

Now, I admit that when it’s my work—when I have to prepare a bio for a pitch or give a speech—yes, you will sometimes find me up at three in the morning, searching for that just-right word. I have been known to rehearse a speech so hard that I barely have any voice left with which to give it.

Which is to say: I know both sides of this editing thing. My advice comes from hard-won experience. So I hope you’ll take it; I’ll certainly try to.

The most important thing is to write.

The second most important is to accept that your writing will hardly ever be perfect.

The third most important thing is to know that, and let people read it anyway.


Like what you’re reading? Click here to keep in touch—and I’ll send you my “$100,000 Writing Lesson” as thanks.

Book-writing and article-writing—what’s the difference? Frequent Questions

Q: I write articles all the time. What’s the difference between that and book-writing?

A: Books have more words in them.

Of course I’m being facetious. My questioner knows what the difference is between article-writing and book-writing. But it’s also true: unless you write articles for The New Yorker, your book will generally have more words.

I think what she really wanted to know was: How do you take 20,000 words to say something you could say perfectly well in 2,000? And the answer to that question is—you don’t. You use the 2,000 words as the seeds to build something bigger.

book-writing may require repotting some ideasNow, not all seeds sprout equally. Some of them will turn into beautiful flowers—but if you’re telling a story about herbs, the flowers will be useless. So repot them and stick ’em back in the greenhouse for the next thing you write. (Okay, I’m officially out of planting metaphors now. Not Nature Girl, remember?)

But some of the ideas in your original piece will be perfect to expand. So figure out how they would fit in the expanded arc of the story and expand them.

Story arc: essential tool of book-writing

You thought only movies and TV shows have story arcs? Think again.

The novelist Kurt Vonnegut may have been the first to represent the archetypes of stories graphically.

And now a group of scientists have done it with computers. The computers identified six story types:

1. Rags to Riches (rise)
2. Riches to Rags (fall)
3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)
4. Icarus (rise then fall)
5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)
6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

Now, I could write about story arcs all day. But they’re tangential to the point I’m trying to make in this blog. So let’s repot that idea and stash it in the greenhouse for another day.

The “fat outline”

The reason I brought up story arcs is that to turn an article-length piece into a book, or to create a book out of thin air, you need to know where you’re going. And then get there. Story arcs take your reader on a journey—and if they enjoy the journey, they will tell others. If your book seems like an unconnected series of things slapped together for no particular reader, you’ll have a hard time keeping a reader’s interest.

A “fat outline” will help you sketch out your storyline. If you hadn’t heard the term before, I’m relieved—neither had I until I ran across it in this post by Josh Bernoff, one of my favorite bloggers.

Even though I didn’t know it had a name, I create “fat outlines” whenever I have a long, research-heavy piece to write. Basically, I just paste everything I know about a certain aspect of the topic into a Word doc. (I’m trying to teach myself to use Scrivener, but I haven’t made the transition completely yet.)

I create footnotes at this stage, too. Nothing worse than having a client ask, “Where did you find this data point?” Where, indeed—since you’ve read about a million things. And at least 63% of the time, you can never find the original source again. [Footnote: I made that statistic up; based on my experiences before I started footnoting my notes, it’s probably higher.]

Bernoff also calls his fat outline a “zeroth draft,” which I love. Does that paint the picture for you? Basically, it’s as close as you can get to writing without actually making sentences of your own. And if it looks too short for book-writing—if your zeroth draft turns out to be less than zero—go back and see which seeds have sprouted usefully.

When your outline has grown as fat and contented as an old housecat, you’re ready to get down to the business of book-writing.


Have you put off doing the writing you want to do? Maybe you feel your skills need polishing. Maybe you feel alone and at sea. Maybe you wish you had a supportive group of people to hold you to your commitment to write. My Writing Unbound program offers all that and more. Register today—class starts February 2nd.

Can you have too many ideas? Frequent Questions

Q: Is there such a thing as too many ideas?

A: Are you high?

A friend of mine is writing a book. “But I have too many ideas,” she told me. “I don’t know what to do with them all.”

This is what’s known in the trade as a high-class problem. Many writers with this “dilemma” would get down on their knees and kiss their keyboards.

But my friend is trying to write a book. And until she can domesticate some of those ideas, organize them into tidy little stacks, it’s going to be hard for her to see exactly what kind of book this book of hers wants to be.

So, yes, my friend has a problem. I suggested she solve it the low-tech way:

  1. Get a folder—or better yet, an envelope
  2. Label the envelope “Strokes of Genius” (hey—a high-class problem deserves an aspirational name)
  3. Every time you get an idea, write it down on an index card or some other paperlike substance
  4. Toss the card into the envelope
  5. Every couple of weeks (or month, or…), dump out the contents of the envelope and sort through them.

You’ve captured the ideas, so they won’t disappear. And you’ve also bought yourself some time.

So many ideas, so little genius

When the ideas tumble out of the envelope weeks later, most of them will make you question your sanity. No doubt they seemed brilliant when they first appeared. But in the clear light of day, they’re clearly just ordinary. Toss them out.

Some of the ideas—and be warned, this will likely be a minority—you’ll still like almost as much as when you scribbled them down. Maybe even more. Perhaps these really are genius ideas. Set them aside for further investigation.

But the majority of your ideas will fall somewhere in between madness and genius. Sort through them if you like. But I generally just shove them back into the envelope until next time. If they still don’t excite me on second viewing, I deposit them in the circular file.

Life is too short to waste on ideas we’re not passionate about. Or people, for that matter.


Do you write every day? It’s the fastest way to improve your skills. Challenge yourself to start a daily practice: My next 5×15 Writing Challenge starts January 23rd.