The muse is speaking. You have a great idea for a story. Bestseller potential. You jot it down with a feverish gush of inspiration and cry “Eureka! The Best story ever!”

Before you propose marriage to your manuscript you might want to consider dating for a while.*

Remember that handsome stranger? The perfect man you’re sure is the one at first sight? News flash. He still lives with his mother and he has a small petting zoo in his bedroom and sucks his thumb at night. Not as good as you thought huh? (If you’re attracted to women just imagine said scenario with her. I tried to make this unisex but it just wasn’t working.)

We tend to marry our ideas right away and stick to them relentlessly, even when our story really stinks because we believe it was “meant to be.” The idea was inspired, it came in a dream, your long dead aunt whispered the opening line in your ear, God himself told you to write that story!

The problem with inspiration and great ideas that seem to drop from nowhere (or somewhere very important to us) is they make us lazy. We expect those ideas to develop on their own, to flow out of us like milk and honey. Because we got the idea for free, somehow the story will come without effort.

Lie. Lie. LIE!

Ideas are starting point, a little nudge if you will, but no matter how important or powerful the source of your idea they are not the be-all-end-all of your writing. I have read many books with an amazing, really cool idea only to be disappointed. Why? Same reason why a delicious recipe can be gross with a bad chef. A gorgeous dress design can be ruined by an amateur seamstress. A great book idea gone flat by the hand of an unskilled writer.

It is your execution of the idea, not the idea itself, that will sell your work.

So before you marry your work and send it off expecting to become the next Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, whoever-your-idol-is, date your story for a while. Keep your eyes wide open. Search for red flags that might be a problem in marriage, because once those words are in print, they’re kind of difficult to change.

* In the interest of time and using it where it matters most, my blog posts and I have a relatively short relationship. Plus I can make edits after I post.


  1. You are so right on. I have hundreds of inspired ideas. It’s all the important stuff that I’m lacking. . .

    • Cindy

    • September 15, 2009

    • 3:26 pm

    Great post! This is so true. I get ideas for stories all the time. Sometimes I write them down and others, after thinking on them for days or week, after writing bits and pieces down, I realize they’re going nowhere. When the story doesn’t feel right, when it feels forces, it’s definitely time to reconsider.

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