On Wrestling Ghosts, Or: How to Know Which One of Several Possible Writing Projects You Should Choose


So, I have all these ideas for books. And for ages and ages and ages, I’ve tortured myself with this question: which book should I write first?

It’s a tough decision. I mean, there’s Family Thais, a novel I’ve already drafted. It needs a major rewrite, but it could be considered 50% finished. Shouldn’t I start there?

But then, there’s that book of brainstorming tips for businesspeople — which could launch a whole new career as a highly paid consultant. And there’s the first book in that twenty-two book mystery series based on the Tarot trumps! That one could give me the financial wherewithal to go back to writing full-time, you know.

And *then* there’s the science-fiction novel about the Emperor’s son who falls in with a band of dangerous criminals. And the one about the group of people trying to seal a rift in space/time before it devours our universe. And the one about the guy who gets a chance to see four alternative ways his life could have been lived. Oh — and the one about the guy who falls in love with himself while on a mission in parallel universe. And — oh yeah — I almost forgot: all those books for the Tarot decks I designed … and the re-writes of the early Tarot books whose rights have reverted back to me …

So many projects, so little time. Do you feel me?

And, given that writing a book is no small investment of time and energy, I’ll bet you also want to pick the right one, don’t you? Should it be the one with the most commercial appeal … or the one that might get you a movie deal … or find its audience on the Kindle … or create a reputation you could spin into a lucrative career as a consultant or speaker or guru?

You can spend days, weeks, months, years pondering this. You can spend a lifetime. I should know. I’ve spent about 30 of the past 46 years using this very question as a way of avoiding The Work.

Well, wonder no more, because here’s the answer you’ve been waiting for:

It doesn’t matter which one you pick.

Let me repeat that: it doesn’t matter which one you pick … because, at this point, they’re all equally horrible …

… because, at this point, they’re all equally unreal.

Agonizing over which of several books you should write is like arguing about who would win in a fight: a vampire, a werewolf, or genie. You can’t draw valid comparisons among things that don’t exist.

Oh, you can debate their merits until the cows come home, but doing so is a total waste of your time and energy … because The Idea is not The Book. Books don’t exist until they are written … and, in the writing, books grow and develop and shift and change. The process of changing an idea into a book radically alters the idea forever … and the book you’ll have in your hand, in the end, is never, ever going to be the pristine, glorious, unsullied *potential* book that was, a few months earlier, the book you had in your head.

So it doesn’t matter which one you pick. Just pick one, and finish it, and then go on and start the next.

The resulting books may be wonderful. They may be dreadful. They may be marketable. They may be forgettable. But, unlike the ideas you’ve been struggling with … these finished books will be real.

And then, as if by magic, you’ll go from being one of those annoying people who is always on the verge of writing a book to being one of those people who is actually writing books.

When you’ve written a few, you can debate their merits.¬†Until then, you’re just wrestling ghosts … and using indecision as an excuse to avoid the work of writing.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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