As writers, we’re constantly coming up with fresh story ideas, and inevitably some of them will be absolute gold, whilst others…well others won’t be! I, for one, have definitely cringed at some of my ideas when looking back through old notebooks and my Evernote folders, and thought ‘what the hell was I thinking?!’. But at the time it must have seemed like a good idea, because why else would I have written it down?
So how do you tell the difference between a good idea that you should definitely follow up (or ‘a keeper’, as I think of it) and a dud? Well here’s a few indicators that your shiny new idea is a keeper:
- You’re so excited about it you want to start writing right now.
Sometimes a good story idea will slowly start to grow and germinate in your mind, maturing like some kind of stinky cheese until it’s ripe enough to start writing, and that’s perfectly fine. But often the sign of a really good idea is when it comes to you suddenly and you’re so excited by it you want to start writing right now.
Of course there’s a chance that the initial burst of inspiration will burn out, but often if an idea gives you that level of excitement from the start, it’ll continue to excite you, and it’s going to be a keeper!
- It sounds like a story you’d like to read.
There’s a great quote by Toni Morrison that goes, ‘if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ Therefore one way to tell if an idea is something you should work on or discard is to think about whether or not you would want to read that story if it was by another author.
You could even write a book blurb for it, and look at it as if it’s the blurb of a random book you’ve picked up off the library shelf or seen for sale in a bookshop. If it’s something you would genuinely be excited to read, then there’s a good chance that other people would be too, and the idea is probably a keeper!
- It stands the test of time.
Good ideas are usually the ones that still seem like good ideas after the initial burst of inspiration (and yes, I know I said in the first point that the ones you want to write right now are often best, but that doesn’t mean you should start writing them immediately!). Therefore it can be a good idea to note down any ideas you suspect could be truly great and then give them a little time, to see if you still love them just as much a week or two down the line. If you do, you could have a keeper on your hands!
- You can’t stop thinking about it.
Ever since that shiny new idea popped into your head, you haven’t been able to stop thinking about: not when you’re at work, or on the bus, or in the shower, or even when you’re reading something else. Good ideas don’t like to be forgotten after all, so an idea that won’t leave is probably a keeper (and this is yet another reason to note down ideas and wait a bit – to see if you forget the idea, or if it nags at you, begging to be written)!
So how do you personally separate your good ideas from your bad/OKish ideas? How do you know when you’ve found a keeper?