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“I have an idea for a book” he said.

February 17, 2010

I can honestly say I have heard the phrase “I have an idea for a book…” at least 100 times. Probably more. Most people think that writers love that phrase. Truth? It is one of the most loathsome phrases in existence.

When people say this, they usually mean one of three things:

1. I can’t write well, but this is what I would write about if I could.

2. I would love to start writing this some day when everything works together perfectly.

3. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could just skip all the work of writing and get to the part where it is published and I make money and people think I’m interesting and have ideas (well, at least one idea).

Don’t imagine that only non-writers utter “I have an idea…etc.”. When a writer says this, it usually means they have become emotionally constipated and may never write anything. You never hear a painter say they have an idea for a painting or a sculptor say they can visualize what they want to sculpt. They just paint or sculpt and it comes as it comes.

In her pithy book “Chapter after Chapter” Heather Sellers tells the story of the Perfect Rose. A man finds a perfect rose and he steals home with it to smell and admire it as long as he can. But as soon as he gets home, he realizes the rose will soon whither and he will lose its fragrance forever. So he sticks it in a vault and hides it away. A year later, he comes to the rose in the vault. As he opens the door, he doesn’t see a rose, but ashes that used to be his perfect flower. According to Sellers, this is a picture of a writer who has an idea and loves the idea but does not write.

Stop making endless outlines and write; give up on endless pining and write; stop wanting the book to be done and enjoy writing it instead. Just sit down and write. Write on napkins and in journals and with word processors. After you have written, don’t edit – just write some more. When the project is done, there will be time to edit. Stop saving the book for another day. Write down the bones and flesh out the meat later. You’ll never get it perfect, but you will have the opportunity to smell the fragrance of real words instead of wishing on them and creating ashes instead.

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