I never start a column without first thoroughly determining the focus, the style, and the single most-important aspect of all column writing - the chances it will make its word count.

Then, I consider the all-important issue of timing; one of the first things they teach you in columnist school is to think carefully about when the column will appear. It would be laughable (and I don't mean ha-ha laughable), for example, to write a column about the Fourth of July that is scheduled to appear at Christmastime - unless you're doing it on purpose, but that is covered in Advanced Column Writing and is nothing we need to go into here.

Once all of these details have been ironed out, it's time to get down to the actual writing. But while I was busy doing all this deliberating, a friend of mine, also a writer, sent me a copy of something she had written. She wanted my input before it was published, she said, especially since I played a role in the piece. I settled in and started to read. In short order, I discovered to my dismay that her article was on the same topic I had chosen for this column.

So now I had to decide if it is wrong for me to write about a subject after I'd read my friend's unpublished take on it.

The idea for her story, and my would-be column, came from a mutual friend of ours, a professor of marketing, who had e-mailed both of us a study she came across in a professional journal that she thought we'd get a kick out of, as it examined the consequences of a supposed defining personality trait of mine. It's not true, of course. My personality is not hobbled by the particular affliction addressed in the study. But because my friends, wrongheaded as they may be, like to think so, it was worth a good laugh.