Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Where Ideas Come From

Ideas come from everywhere. Sparked by experience, memory, dream, they arc across the landscape of our minds in a constant storm of thought energy. It's easy to sit down and write any number of ideas for stories, for characters, for settings. Try it! If you're not worried about quality, you can fill a page in no time.

Coming up with ideas isn't hard. What's hard is coming up with good ideas. Original ideas. Ideas that can become something awesome.

So how do you know when you've got a good idea?

I don't think you can always tell right away. You  have to try it out. Work with it. Write that story, and then see what happens. I've had ideas for scenes I thought would turn out great, and then when I wrote it, it didn't work. Other times I struggled with something I thought wouldn't work at all, and when I wrote it, I was surprised by how well it turned out. So I've stopped trying to second-guess my ideas. I don't argue with my imagination any more. I put the words on the page and then I decide.

But with so many ideas coming all the time, I can't write about them all. I probably had three or four ideas for a blog post today, but this is the only one that I'm actually going to write.

So how to choose?

I think the good ideas tend to stick around. They're the ones I can't get out of my head. With a life of their own, they grow and collect more good ideas. I also think that the good ideas are the ones that fascinate me. If I care about an idea enough to turn it into a story, that means there's something good about it. I also think the good ideas are the ones that when I pitch them to other people, their eyes light up and they say, "I want to read that."

But most of all, a good idea gives me that rollercoaster rush of a feeling - like I'm so excited I could burst. Like I want to run around and shout it out to everyone. Like I can't wait to write it. Like I can't wait for people to read it!

How do you know when you've got a good idea?


  1. For me, a good idea is one that keeps coming back. I find I've written in my notebook before. Not only that, but it can grow and combine with another idea to make it deeper and richer.

  2. I love your criteria! And that heady feeling of needing to share, needing to see it in words ... that tells me I'm on to something. :)

  3. I think it's not about the quality of the idea at all but the emotional connection you have to it. If you love an idea, you'll work on it until you turn it into a great story and your love will show. If you're indifferent, that'll show too. There aren't really many original ideas out there. Most bestsellers are, if you take a good look at their market niche, not all that different from what's gone before, they're just written with more passion.

  4. Like you said, it's the ones that won't leave you alone that are winners. If the idea moves into my brain and jumps around like a five-year-old begging for attention, it's going to get written. :)

  5. Andrea, I love those notebooks. They collect flecks of gold like a gravel bed in a California river. I like to pan through them now and then and see what I come up with.

    Well said, Sue!

    Emily, I agree that really caring about an idea counts for a lot.

    Leisha, I like the idea of a five-year-old begging for attention. Good ideas really have a life of their own.

    And thanks, Shannon. I always appreciate your comments.

  6. A good idea (to me) is when a character appears that is so real, I can have quality conversations with him or her, and end up delighted and/or horrified by what shows up. If this continues for more than a few weeks, it's a good sign that this one might work. - It also might get me committed.


What be on yer mind?