Before You Publish, Try to Destroy Your Ideas

file451297827287There are many reasons to begin writing on a regular basis. One is to keep an evolving record of your ideas as you create and refine them. Another is to take ideas that you have already tested and present them to the world.

These two reasons are entirely different. And many aspiring authors forget this distinction—to their peril.

Maybe you shouldn’t write a book—yet

Perhaps you’ve had this experience: In a casual conversation, you explain one of your big ideas to a friend. “That’s great,” she says. “You should write a book!”


A more useful interpretation is you should put that in writing. I won’t argue with that, especially if you want to crap-test the idea.

But are you ready to publish a book? Not necessarily.

Ways to test

If you want to publish a nonfiction book to establish your credibility as an expert, consider this: Your book will culminate a long period of engagement with your ideas. This can include:

  • Blogging about the ideas and monitoring the comments
  • Writing for trade journals or other periodicals and seeing if editors and readers respond
  • Speaking about your ideas and listening—without resistance—to audience reactions
  • Translating your ideas into a program of concrete suggestions that people that people can use and evaluate
  • Conducting research based on your big idea—something that Dan Pink did for To Sell Is Human
  • Circulating a draft of your book to competent reviewers and asking for comments

Until you done such testing over a period of several years, you’re probably not ready to publish.

Overcoming our built-in biases

Ruthless testing is necessary due to a human weakness called confirmation bias. Shane Parrish at the Farnam Street blog defines this as “the tendency to seek information that confirms prior conclusions and to ignore evidence to the contrary.”

How do we get past this bias? Make a deliberate effort to find evidence that disconfirms your ideas.

I admire this passage from Tad Golas’s foreword to The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment:

I never varied from my determination to evolve hard information, a way of being that could be relied on even in chaos. It was chaos that taught me. I was so ruthless in testing, suspecting every sentiment, that I came to feel I was a destroyer of ideas, and indeed my books are based on what I could not demolish. Anyone who wants to tear those books down will have to work harder and longer than I did.

Now there is a crap detector—and someone who sold a lot of books.

Golas captures the irony of intellectual adventure: If you love your ideas, then seek to destroy them. Otherwise, you have not done the work required to have an opinion.

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