When I began writing novels, I reached out to a writing coach named Gary Provost. Gary, who has since passed away, had a remarkable talent for simplifying the process of creating storylines. It was partly because of his excellent guidance that I began my Frank Clevenger series of mysteries.

Gary shared with me a simple tool to come up with the theme of a short story, novel or screenplay. It was this two-word question: What if?

I think Gary’s two-word question is a great way to jump-start creative work of many kinds. Certainly, it works for works of fiction:

What if an unknown fighter from Philadelphia suddenly got a shot at the Heavyweight Championship? (Rocky)

What if an alien got left behind on earth and was discovered and housed by the kids who found him? (ET)

What if robots began to have human feelings, with potentially disastrous consequences for humankind? (I, Robot)

If you are feeling a bit blocked when trying to think up a story worthy of a work of fiction, try using the “What if?” question yourself. Let your mind wander. What if you opened the door to your home and everyone in it seemed to be a stranger? What if a couple who were down on their luck stumbled upon what seemed like the perfect plan to rob a bank, tucked away in their attic by the wife’s great grandfather? What if Abraham Lincoln reappeared on the earth and sought the Presidency?

Okay, I happened to just come up with those and fire them off, but you get the idea. With a few hours of blue skying, you can probably come up with several of your own. You certainly don’t need to commit to anything at first. The whole idea is to make “What if?” a recurring theme in your creative imagination.

Of course, the “What if?” question doesn’t need to apply only to fictional projects or entertainment projects. It’s a great question to use to get your mind in the space to think up potential inventions, new business ideas or ways to reengineer your current business.

“What if?” is the opposite of “What’s the sense?” It’s an inherently optimistic platform from which to envision new horizon. It’s a question that invites your imagination to come out to play. There are no wrong or dumb or outlandish answers to the “What if?” question. Because the question is so open-ended and so inviting of bold ideas that all thoughts are welcome. The more the better. It might take dozens of ideas you don’t ultimately embrace to come up with the one that you do. But that’s still lightning fast.

Need a little more prompting? Try these:

What if I woke up tomorrow and . . . ?

What if I opened the window of my office and . . .?

What if I was looking at my arm and . . .?

What if the phone rang, I picked it up and . . . ?

What if I was just walking through the mall and . . .?

I could go on and on and on. So can you. Trust me. And that’s the point. Your creative imagination is infinite. Sometimes it just needs a jump start.

Keith Ablow, MD

The post NEED AN IDEA FOR A NOVEL OR SCREENPLAY (OR NEW BUSINESS)? appeared first on Keith Ablow Creative, Inc..

How to Keep Your Self-Esteem High


(Or How to Keep Your Self-Esteem High, when the Rewards Only Come Later)

One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the scene in Miracle, when Kurt Russell, playing U.S. Olympic hockey team coach Herb Brooks, yells at his players, “Play your game!” The last minutes of the now famous U.S. versus Soviet Union hockey game are ticking by, and Brooks wants his players to remain undeterred by Soviet attempts to make them lose focus.

Mind you, almost no one gave the American team any chance of defeating the Soviets, who were a hockey dynasty, considered unbeatable by all the experts.

Just take a look at the last minute of the game, in case you haven’t seen it. Because it is testimony to what can happen when focus and determination trump everything.

Well, I think, “Play your game!” is some of the best advice those with creative goals could ever hear. Why? Because, for anyone pursuing a career as a writer or artist or entrepreneur or musician or poet, the world is full of potential distractions and discouragements. And it’s very tough to remain committed to one’s path—especially a creative one—when the risks may be high and the pay may be low (if only termporarily).

Human beings have a tendency to compare themselves to one another, ceaselessly. The entire market for luxury goods and homes and cars depends on it. So, you’ll be constantly tempted to not “play your game” by friends and colleagues who take less uncertain paths to more certain financial rewards or greater status.

Here’s a little advice from the first psychiatrist I ever went to as a patient—Dr. James Mann. Yes, even psychiatrists go to psychiatrists. Actually, I was Chief Resident in psychiatry at Boston’s Tufts/New England Medical Center, at that time. And I told Dr. Mann that I wanted to complete work on a literary novel during my “free” time, but that a friend of mine had suggested I pivot to a different genre that would be more likely to sell lots of copies and make me more money. “The last place you want to end up,” Mann said, “is in a first class seat on a flight going somewhere you don’t want to go.”

Translation: Play your game, not anyone else’s.

This advice is particularly important for young people who need to navigate, absorb and make sense of all the feedback they get from friends, parents, teachers and coaches as they move from one grade to another and one school to another. Because the educational system as it is currently constructed—almost everywhere—is a soul-crushing, mind-numbing machine that rewards abandoning oneself, in favor of rote memorization of inert facts and useless skills. So it’s worth reminding our sons and daughters, again and again, to play your game, meaning to measure themselves according to whether they are developing strong character, whether they are expressing themselves creatively and intellectually in ways they value, whether they are learning leadership skills and autonomy, and whether they are avoiding any undue self-criticism.

You deserve no less. Make no mistake: When you journey boldly forward to pursue your true creative dreams, you are playing your game. It is not easy. But the rewards cannot be reproduced by playing according to anyone else’s rules or trying to achieve anyone else’s goals.

It shouldn’t be surprising that you might want a coach to help make that happen. If that’s the case, I would be honored to be the creative partner you deserve. Just email me at [email protected] or call 978-462-1125.

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative

The post How to Keep Your Self-Esteem High appeared first on Keith Ablow Creative, Inc..



So many of my counseling clients (The Ablow Center) and creative consulting clients (Keith Ablow Creative) can envision the next chapter of their life stories, but need some help actualizing the next chapter. Why? Sometimes it’s about resources, but very often it is about the resolve to let go of something they have, in order to get something else that speaks more to their heart.

This is a very human dilemma. Lots of us are risk averse. And we tend to interpret change as risky. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” is such a common adage that it appears in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and lots of others.

The roots of this risk aversion seem to be hard-wired into us. As kids, we need encouragement to let go of the edge of the pool to begin to learn to swim. We need some prodding to let go of our comforting blankets or stuffed toys, in order to move forward toward independence. We need to be coaxed to let go of our parents’ hands when we start school. We literally need help to let go, then get moving.

Well, part of my job is to encourage my clients to let go of something that they have, in order to get something that they want. Sometimes that means letting go of a job to start a business. Sometimes it means letting go of an investment to trade into another. Sometimes, it means letting go of some income, in order to become a part-time (or full-time) artist. And it has been my absolute privilege to see many people I have worked with do just that. They have let go, in order to get moving toward goals they treasure.

I don’t want to minimize the psychological/cognitive shift required to let go, then get moving. In the book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield makes a convincing case for how difficult the shift really is. He says that “resistance” to let go, then get moving is responsible for most of people’s unrealized potential:

Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually.

So if you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing . . . relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.

The late Robert Pirsig, in his astounding book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, used a metaphor to describe how difficult it is to let go, then get moving. He wrote about “the old South Indian Monkey Trap,” which “consists of a hollowed-out coconut, chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole.” The trouble is that the hole is big enough for the monkey’s empty hand to fit through, but too small for his hand full of rice to fit back out. “The monkey is suddenly trapped,” Pirsig says. He can’t re-value the rice. He can’t see that freedom without rice is more desirable than capture with it.

We’re all vulnerable to this trap.

So how do you break free? How do you let go, then get moving? Here are three ways to begin:

    1. Don’t think about trading one journey for another, entirely.

Put a toe in the water. By this, I mean that if you are considering letting go of a career as a travel agent to become a travel writer, don’t tell yourself that you would have to quit, have no income, grab your laptop and start traveling the world, writing all the while. Buy a book on travel writing and read it. Or choose one location you are transfixed by and query half-a-dozen magazines about whether one might accept a piece from you, about that place. Or write to a few noted travel writers and ask for some advice on transitioning. Taking one step toward the next chapter of your life story can make the next step easier. Then, the steps can fall very much into line.

    2. Stop assuming that you can’t be the one who succeeds.

Lots of us stymie ourselves from bold next steps because we assume they never yield real success. Sure, there are people who start businesses and make a fortune, but those people are few and far between, aren’t they? Actually, no. There are lots of them. You might be one of them, but you have to envision real success, in order to make it real. And even if the business doesn’t make it, won’t the experience be invaluable? Will you really be unable to recapture the income you had prior to taking the risk? Unlikely.

    3. Believe that your idea was given to you by a Higher Power.

It doesn’t matter if you believe the Higher Power to be God, the Universe or some mysterious location in your central nervous system. The idea has meaning. If it keeps beckoning you, then there’s a reason for that. It isn’t random or ridiculous. It’s real. Explore it.

Finally, if you need help letting go to get moving, then get a coach. I happen to be a life coach and counselor, so I’m biased. But, really, the power of two is not just 1 + 1. An exponential increase in energy is possible when you have someone in your corner, asking tough questions and also offering real support and encouragement (especially if that’s someone who has lots of success stories to draw from).

Ready? If you weren’t, you’d never have read all the way to the end of this article.

Keith Ablow, MD

Dr. Keith Ablow is the Founder of Keith Ablow Creative and The Ablow Center

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I recently was fortunate to have my book To Wrestle with Demons: A Psychiatrist Struggles to Understand His Patients and Himself published in a leather-bound collector’s edition by Gryphon Editions’ Classics of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Library

Holding the book in my hands made me think a little bit about the moment at which we find ourselves, with high tech eclipsing high touch. Because the book—like every Gryphon Editions book—exudes quality. Leaving aside the content (which is not the subject of this blog), the book looks like a work of art. It feels like a work of art. It smells like a work of art.

This result is not easily achieved. Every volume from Gryphon Editions is fully bound in the best quality leather, or is quarter-leather bound with fine library buckram, and embellished with gold stamping of an original design. The raised bands across the spine are distinctive of the classic bookmaker’s art. Colorful endleaves are reminiscent of fine Old World editions. Coordinating headbands grace both ends of the spine and add strength. The acid-free leaves are smyth-sewn; their edges are gilded for additional protection and elegance. A permanent satin ribbon marker ensures easy reference.

Having my work included as a Gryphon Editions Classic moves me, in part because of the care the publisher takes with every book it creates. I believe this investment of time and energy on their part changes a reader’s experience, in an immeasurable way. Yes, the words are, technically, exactly the same as they are in the paperback edition of my work. Yet, as the great philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote in his book Understanding Media, “The medium is the message.” A stunningly beautiful presentation of written words resonates in its own unique way. It always will. How could it not?

Robert Pirsig, author of the modern classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote about this human capacity to appreciate quality:

If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting
stuck, then classical, structural . . . knowledge, although necessary, isn’t enough. You
have to have a sense of what’s good. That is what carries you forward. This sense isn’t
just something you’re born with, although you are born with it. It’s also something you
can develop. It’s not just “intuition,” not just unexplainable “skill” or “talent” . . .

The key word is“better”— Quality.

Gryphon Editions publishes books that celebrate what they see as enduring knowledge (all ego aside), but that also celebrate enduring craftsmanship. Care in creation. They publish books that are unapologetically, fervently, even courageously (given the economics of creating such books) non-disposable. Beyond content, that is their medium. And that is their message.

I know that ebooks and Kindles and iPhones are not going away and that they offer a myriad of conveniences, but I do think that craftsmanship still matters, and that something is lost when we rush to abandon it. The owners of Gryphon Editions are clearly in no rush to do any such thing. If you can resolve to bring that sort of passion to what you do, then anyone who comes into contact with the product will, instinctively, recognize it.

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, The Ablow Center and Keith Ablow Creative


Boston, MA
For Immediate Release

According to a recent Veteran’s Department study, more than 20 veterans and active duty personnel commit suicide each day. A prior VA study put that number closer to 22.

The toll of military service could not be starker than the way it manifests in those men and women who come to believe—wrongly and tragically—that relief from their unbearable psychological suffering will never come. That grim perspective is the work of depression, PTSD and other disorders that erode, and then erase, faith in the healing power of psychiatry and psychology, of love, of time and of God.

As a counselor and life coach who has worked in state, community mental health and VA settings (both inpatient and outpatient), my current private practice of counseling and life coaching means I now remain at an uncomfortable distance from the pain of America’s veterans. And that makes me uncomfortable. Because I live in a nation in which I enjoy the freedoms America’s veterans fought and fight to preserve.

That’s why I have decided to offer a full day, the 22nd of every month, composed of one-hour counseling and advice sessions for any veteran who wants my help, free of charge, anywhere in the world—whether in person, by phone or via Skype or FaceTime.

The first person I reached out to for assistance was Commander Kirk Lippold USN (Ret). Kirk was Commander of the USS Cole when the ship was bombed by al Qaeda terrorists on October 12, 2000 in the Gulf of Aden. He pulled bodies from the ocean that day. He knows first-hand what it is to live through the horrors of war.

Kirk’s father was a psychologist who founded the Salt Lake Suicide Prevention Center. When he was about five-years-old he heard his dad answering calls at all times of the day and night from people who needed help. And he never forgot it.

I could not be more honored that Commander Lippold agreed to join me in launching #HELP22. Soon, we intend to challenge psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, pastoral counselors and life coaches around America to offer their own days of free counseling and advice on the 22nd of each month. These professionals have remarkable, effective healing tools at their disposal. Every single hour could save a life.

My first #HELP22 day will take place beginning 8 a.m. on the 22nd of November (and running 11 hours, until 7 p.m.) Those who want to avail themselves of my time need only email [email protected] to begin the process of registering.

I’m not taking off for lunch or dinner during my #HELP22 day. I want my day to symbolize, in some small way, the endless days Commander Lippold and all service men and women know about. America’s veterans have contributed countless selfless hours, often in distant lands, risking their lives. I’ll be sitting safely in my office in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with plenty of hot coffee right downstairs. My offering is nothing compared to theirs, and I know it. But, I want to do something and I hope my colleagues around the nation will join me very soon.

Keith Ablow, MD

Media inquiries and potential clients, contact [email protected] or call 978-462-1125.

Is This the Question God Will Ask You When You Die?

The great novelist J.D. Salinger got a lot of things right. Among them, he wrote that one of the only questions that will be asked of us when we die is this:

Were most of your stars out?

Now, obviously, no one can know God’s plans for us. And I am sure I have readers who doubt the existence of God. But I think Salinger was on to something.

I think our journey in life, as human beings, may well be to get “most of our stars out.”

What does this mean? I believe it means that we each have a destiny—including the use of our talents and the expression of love (which may be the same thing)—and that we have to attempt to achieve that destiny. We have to get our stars out.

In order to know whether we have shone through to the greatest possible extent, we have to determine who we are, in our deepest essence. Are we, at the core of our existences, healers, businesspeople, writers, engineers, teachers, painters, or police officers? And how are we shining through as parents, friends, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives.

One might think that the process of finding oneself—truly and irrevocably—should be easy. The trouble is that knowing one’s destiny and then expressing it can be very frightening. We tend to accuse ourselves of being imposters in our own lives, especially when it comes to the gifts we quietly believe we may have.

How can a person find his or her true self? The best disciplines to participate in are:

1. Psychotherapy: Insight-oriented psychotherapy or counseling remains the gold standard.

2. Meditation: Meditation clears the mind, allowing for the focus necessary to identify one’s core talents, hopes and dreams.

3. Prayer, Faith-based Discussions, Religious Services or Pastoral Counseling: A central theme of Christianity, Judaism and other religions is the value of the individual, especially when that individual has stopped running from what his or her heart and mind really dictate.

Somehow, back in the sixties or seventies the phrase “finding myself” took on the connotation of avoiding work and being lazy. But it isn’t easy at all. It takes focus and devotion. And there can be no more worthwhile pursuit. Because none of us can offer the world around us our very best if we are as though strangers to ourselves.

A world with enough people in it who are expressing themselves would be a very loving world, indeed. Now, you can use a simple question to move in that direction.

Were most of your stars out?

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative, Inc.


None of us has time or words to spare, when you really think about it. Our lives on the planet are brief, and our opportunities to impact others are not infinite. Given this, I want to share three ways I believe you can truly move people when you interact with them, whether in your personal life, professional life or creative work.

Share What You Initially Fear is Too Much to Share

Whether in discussions with friends, with romantic partners or in your public speaking, writing or any other art, you will arrive at moments when revealing painful pages of your life story seems like too much of a risk. Those are the very pages to share. They are gold. I’m talking about living through losses or trauma or living with self-doubt or guilt. Sharing these pages requires courage—the courage of self-revelation. But only through self-revelation (and more of it, frankly, than you think is wise) can true connections with others be forged.

People are not moved by your successes or your C.V. They are moved by your challenges, especially the ones that initially make the seductive case that they ought be hidden away—buried. Unearth them. Share them.

Ask the Next Question, and the Next One, Too

In discussing life or love or art (which may be all the same thing, by the way) with others, many of us have the tendency to stop a conversation when we are at the threshold of intimacy—but still shy of it. Someone may offer that she “didn’t much like” her parents when she was growing up, and we’re tempted to say, “That’s sad. I’m sure they did better later on.” Or, we might say, “I think a lot of people feel that way about their parents while they’re growing up.” Both replies are ways of shutting the other person down. There are lots of questions that will open up the other person, including, “Why did you dislike them?” Or, “How did they disappoint you?” Or, “What do you remember as the time they let you down the most?”

When reading someone’s poetry or looking at his paintings or watching her film or, for that matter, wondering what moved someone to start a particular business, listen for the deepest of emotions, then ask more about the topics that seem connected to them.

Don’t run from the pain of another person. Move toward it. The reward will be genuine human connection, at a core, spiritual level. And, in this life, there is no greater reward.

Say it Out Loud When You Feel the Connection Happen

When we connect at this core, spiritual level with one or more people, the power of the connection can itself lead us to turn away from its power. To counteract this tendency, I find it valuable to state was has happened. “It’s amazing we could sit down and go back decades in one another’s life,” you might say. Or, “I feel like I know more about you after this hour than I know about friends I’ve known for years.” Celebrate and honor the connection; don’t fear it.

Really, what I am talking about here is fueling human empathy—perhaps the most powerful force in the world, and a true gift from God. We all have it, but too few of us take the time to exercise it, in order to strengthen it.

Keith Ablow, MD
Keith Ablow is the Founder of The Ablow Center and Keith Ablow Creative

Five Keys to Giving the Best Speech of Your Life

There are plenty of resources that provide advice on delivering a speech and which focus on organizing the material, providing visuals, selecting a topic and being a commanding presence.

My advice is more ambitious: What keys make a speech something that changes people, in meaningful ways, within the scope of 20 or 30 or 60 minutes?

Provided you can choose the topic of your speech, I think there are five such keys. If you create a speech that embraces them, there’s a real chance people will leave the room and not forget what they heard—and not forget that you were the messenger. That’s a tall order, in an age of sound bites, Tweets and Instagram posts, but powerful ideas, powerfully presented will always have a place.

So, here are my five keys to giving the best speech of your life:

Choose a topic that can change lives: The topic doesn’t have to revolutionize the entire philosophical, spiritual or professional underpinnings of a listener’s life, but it should have the potential to fundamentally impact some aspect of the listener’s life. You might refine the topic, for instance, from “Forging Relationships that Work,” to “One Message that People You Connect with Deserve to Hear.” In other words, get right down to a core deliverable that can reach the core of an audience member.

Choose a topic that has meaning in your own life: Human beings have radar for messages “from the heart.” They can tell when you’re speaking about something you care deeply about and when you’re at a distance from your topic (and, then, inevitably, from them). For example, if you were speaking about “Why People Keep Cars for Decades,” don’t forget to share memories of a car that you still think about (and regret having sold) or one that your grandfather kept, long after it made financial sense to keep repairing it (and how you recall the pride he took in maintaining it).

Go the extra mile in being self-revelatory: Too many people believe that there is a risk in self-revelation—that they will be making themselves too vulnerable. In fact, the opposite is true; revealing parts of oneself that seem quite personal is a powerful way to connect with others. For example, if you were to share the story about your grandfather keeping his car longer than it made economic sense, why not dig a little deeper and share a story of when he stood in the rain to watch you play Little League baseball, too?

Help your listeners access deeper parts of themselves: Feel free to ask/instruct audience members to connect with the messages you are delivering. You can literally facilitate them personalizing and internalizing what you are sharing, if you develop the confidence to guide them. Here’s an example: “So, I want you to close your eyes, just for fifteen seconds. Don’t worry, I’ll watch the clock. And I want you to imagine one possession someone you loved kept close at hand, that they treasured. Okay, now close your eyes.” After 15 seconds, you could ask a few members of the audience to share their memories.

Conclude by reminding the audience what has just happened, because (with a little planning and follow-through), it really should have. Highlighting the magic that unfolded will reinforce its power, over time. You might say, “Okay, we’ve spent thirty minutes together. That doesn’t seem like a very long time, right? But I would say we’re no longer strangers. We reached a different level, together, if only for half an hour. Think about that during some other times you spend with co-workers or friends or family. And make the most of as many half-hours of your life as you can.”

That last point could really be seen as summarizing my message here. When you have the good fortune to have the attention of a group and the opportunity to speak from the heart, directly to their hearts, command that attention and take that opportunity—all the way to real connection. Your audience might well never forget having heard from you.

Keith Ablow, MD

Keith Ablow is the Founder of Keith Ablow Creative and The Ablow Center.


For executives, authors, attorneys or anyone who is not a veteran of on-camera work, it can be daunting when a news event or a publicity tour means going in front of the camera. Sitting in a small room for a satellite interview, with an earpiece in your ear and a video camera lens pointed at you, isn’t anything like having a normal discussion. Neither is a sit-down interview with a journalist who has question after question for you. Either situation can end up making you look or sound ill-at-ease.

Helping people get comfortable in front of television cameras is part of the consulting work I do. Providing comprehensive coaching to reach your goals. But I’ll share with you four bits of free advice right now on how to triumph over television as a medium.

1 – Look Away

Don’t be afraid to briefly look away from the camera or from the interviewer when you’re talking, as you would if you were in a regular discussion. Too many people who are interviewed on-camera stare straight into the lens or ceaselessly at their interviewers. You will look much more experienced and far more natural if you glance away from time-to-time, as if gathering your thoughts. Then you can look back into the lens of the camera or back into the eyes of your interviewer.

2 – Energy

Be about 50 percent more energized than you think you should be. Television dramatically reduces the energy level that viewers perceive in guests. In order to appear engaged and engaging, you’ll need to get comfortable using far more emotion in your voice and facial expressions than usual. Hand gestures help, too. The executive producer of my talk show once told me to feel free to occasionally stand up—literally get up, out of my seat—when I felt surprised by something a guest on the show said. “When you’re on camera,” she said, “you’ll need to be more animated than you would ever think to be off-camera. Otherwise, you’ll seem dull.”

3 – Sound Bites

Talk in sound bites, so that your comments are easy to use on television broadcasts. This means making sure that your answers are self-contained (with a beginning, middle and end) and relatively short – say, 15-30 seconds, if possible. It’s even better if the self-contained answers you give include an element of drama that makes them headline-worthy. An example: Ted Smith calls Apple rotten fruit. That kind of thing.

4 – Take a Pause

Pause for effect. You can pause, or pause and nod, gathering your thoughts, especially when you want viewers to sit closer to the edge of their seats. Television reduces energy levels, but it increases the dramatic impact of silence. So, use it.

Use these four tips, and you’ll be 75 percent better than most people are on camera.

What’s the rest of the recipe for success? Coaching. Appearing on television is no different from any other skill. You build it with feedback and fine-tuning. Whether you reach out to me, or to another coach, don’t hesitate to invest the time. Being a pro on-camera doesn’t take many practice sessions and can pay huge dividends, down the road.

Keith Ablow, MD

The All Important “Deck” to Secure Start-up Funding

Starting a business has an inevitable element of storytelling to it. First of all, it all starts with an idea, just like a novel does. The idea is an answer to this question: “What if?”

Here are three examples:

• What if people could . . . ?

• What if cell phones could . . .?

• What if an app could . . . ?

The difference between a new business and a novel, of course, is that the new business has to be completely non-fiction. Any element of the idea or the plan that is wishful thinking is a threat to the venture. That’s why the “deck” you’ll send out to potential investors needs to be as airtight as possible. Because anything that requires too big of a “leap of faith” to believe runs the risk of making investors far less likely to invest.

That’s why I spend some of my time consulting to people creating these decks—because as both a novelist and former bestselling NY Times non-fiction writer and Newsweek Fellow, I resonate at a very deep level with any image or language that suggests the writer or creator has veered toward fiction from fact. And those are the places where entrepreneurs need to lean into their decks to explain more about how (exactly) milestones in product development will be accomplished, why (exactly) the proposed marketing of the product or service will work and when (as exactly as possible) revenues will begin and begin to grow.

Entrepreneurs need to be careful to stay with non-fiction, because they are, inherently, artists. They are creating something that did not exist before. So the temptation to be expansive, to the point of unreality, is a real risk. A prediction based on data is A okay. A dream based on creativity and hope, without data, invites cynicism. And it’s often tough for the “author” of the dream (the entrepreneur) to tell the difference.

Yes, a lot of this sounds psychological. As someone who practiced psychiatry for more than 25 years, I’m sure I tend to focus on matters of mind a lot more than others might. But that is also because I have learned that people unconsciously assess ideas at multiple levels.

Here are just five:

1. Is the idea inherently powerful?
2. Is the idea unique?
3. Is the idea presented with confidence?
4. Is the idea presented with candor?
5. Is the path to profit very credible?

If you need help making sure you address all five questions, don’t hesitate to involve someone outside the circle of innovators and creators who came up with the idea or who stand to gain from it. A well-intentioned cynic, on your side, can be invaluable.

Keith Ablow