Exit the Lightning Bug

December 11, 2009

What a feeling: elation, exuberance, exhilaration!

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a chapter. One chapter. I mean, one chapter, for weeks — that’s plural, more than one, weeks!

Here’s what happened. I’m working on a book on leadership, working with a major author who has held White House positions and Harvard directorships and all sorts of major stuff and such. The finished draft was due this fall; we finished the finished draft. Met with the editor, a wonderful and brilliant man, with whom I’ve worked before and I trust implicitly and totally. He liked the manuscript, liked it a lot — but Chapter 1 had to go. Part of it worked, but the truth was, we pretty much needed to scrap it and write a new Chapter 1.

He was absolutely right: we did.

So we started. But the thing would not cooperate.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been applying myself to an exercise that has felt very much like what it must feel like to be an ant taking a stroll and suddenly finding oneself hip-deep in a tureen of molasses.

Toward the end of the day, Ana would call down to my office: “How’s it going?” she would say, cheerily, encouragingly, believing-in-me-utterlyly. “Good,” I would reply—most unconvincingly. At dinner I would tell the truth: “I made progress … I think. But progress measured in inches.” And what I needed, as we both knew, was progress not in inches, not in yards, but in miles.

So every day, a few more inches.

And then last night, something wild happened: miles.

It started to feel like it was going somewhere, like we might actually have some flow to this thing. And tonight, it’s finished. Just wrote the last word—at midnight.


You probably will not see this book or read this chapter till a year from now — but when you do, remember this moment, because it’s when Page 1 started to work.

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Yesterday I had lightning bug. Today I think I hit lightning.


  1. Ann Carter

    Hooray — the ant is no longer hip deep in a tureen of molasses – what a picture that paints!!
    Your way with words is astonishing – amazing, and you certainly know the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Mark Twain would be delighted to know you !!
    And now I have to add this book to the others I’m waiting to read. Your well-deserved success must feel very good, and what a nice Holiday present to have this onerous chapter finished !!
    My best to you, and to your champion Ana,
    Ann Carter

  2. Gilles Arbour

    Great story! It reminds me of an old teacher of mine who said “Healing happens instantly but it may take weeks or months even before that actual instant happens”

    So it looks like we’ll be reading a book on Leadership during the 2010 Holidays!

    Meanwhile I wish you and Ana and your family a very wonderful and loving Holiday Season in 2009.

  3. Debbie Barth

    For me, inspiration is like lighting a candle. It can tease you with a flicker and disappear, it can refuse to light up your imagination at all, but then when it is ready, it ignites and the flame burns brightly. Congratulations! I’m looking forward to reading your next #1 best seller.

    Debbie Barth



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