Someone asked this question of me on Skype today:
So how do I know my ideas are any good?
We need to have a conversation about this. The notion that an idea you have can be “good” or “bad” is, I believe, erroneous. An idea is an idea. The idea doesn’t come with those words already attached, you give it that adjective modifier. And you’re choosing some pretty weird modifiers, if I do say so myself.
Instead, I tend to think of ideas as “weak” or “strong”.
- A strong idea may include a few or all of these things:
Strong ideas come to you with a feeling of worth already built in. Strong ideas are ultimately the ideas that work for you (as opposed to against you).
- Pushes me (especially but not necessarily outside of my comfort zone)
- Has plenty of room to grow
- Has some element already flourishing within seconds of its conception (like a character, plot point, or setting)
- Is interesting to me
- Has the air of newness
- Impresses me with its charm/awesomeness/cruelty/vivaciousness/clarity and instills a well-tuned emotion in me
- A weak idea might have all or some of these:
Many weak ideas can become strong ideas, but require some thinkin’. Note: Thinkin’ may take decades.
- Smallness (too limiting, boring, etc.)
- Is a trope that has been traipsed through ad nauseum
- Is a struggle to workshop
- Makes me want to avoid working on it because I secretly dislike it (this is different that avoiding working on something because I’m not-so-secretly lazy)
- Is well within my comfort zone, to the point of “didn’t I already write this?”
- Has me initially excited, but loses my interest relatively quickly
A few more long-winded nuggets on how to think about your ideas:
- Try not to think of ideas as worthless. All ideas have worth, even if you end up scrapping them. They came from your head. Do you believe that your head in the habit of producing worthless things? If you do, that is a conversation for a psychology blog, not a writing help blog, but I respectfully disagree with the notion that any idea out of a writer’s head is worthless. Instead, I think that ideas need to be prioritized, and one idea might be above another on a writer’s list of priorities.
- Try not to get into the mentality that an idea that you have will or will not propel you to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling status among writers. There are plenty of brilliant unpublished writers out there, writers who live in obscurity not because their ideas were “bad”, but because they did not write for the zeitgeist. Or maybe they just didn’t know how to go about getting published. Or maybe they write in the wrong language (which , for some incomprehensible reason, appears at this point in history to be simply not English). Or maybe they didn’t even finish their book/play/poem/short story because they couldn’t be bothered to get the whole thing on paper. Whatever. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances. Whether or not you think your idea has value is useful only to the extent that you write it down and make people read it. That is all. And, trust me, you don’t need to like an idea to do either of those things.
- Try not to put writers in boxes of “me” and “them”, with “me” being you, the unpublished, bad idea-having writer and “them” being the confident, successful, awesome idea-having writers.You are the same people. Well-known authors are also insecure about their work, think their ideas are just okay, or maybe never like a single story of theirs that gets published and doted on my millions of adoring fans. Writers all have doubts. We are all (with a few lovably-cocky exceptions) afraid to fail or worried about our writing. We all feel we could improve. You are not unique in questioning the worth of your ideas or your writing, you’re just wrong. And being wrong here is a surprisingly wonderful thing, so own it.
So that’s my spiel on how I think of my ideas. I leave you with Neil Gaiman:
“And when you’ve an idea - which is, after all, merely something to hold on to as you begin - what then? Well, then you write. You put one word after another until it’s finished - whatever it is. Sometimes it won’t work, or not in the way you first imagined. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Sometimes you throw it out and start again.” (x)
Tell us what you think in the Tumblr or the Disqus comments: How do you like to think about your ideas?