Hallmarks of a Good Writing Idea


I've been obsessed playing with Pinterest the last couple of days.   I love this new site where you can create online picture boards, tagging photos from across the web. Not that this should be a surprise–you're on the blog of a woman who offers a free Ebook on creating Vision Boards, after all.

But what interests me about it is why it has captured my attention.  In spare moments I zip over to my Pinterest page and create more boards.  In boring meetings I ponder subjects for new boards I could create.

This is the way I felt last week about my novel.  Yes, just last week. Oh dear, wonderful novel please forgive me for my betrayal!  This new infatuation will fade, as infatuations do, and I'll be back to you, my first and true love soon.  I hope.

This new love of mine begs the question: what is it about an idea that engages us?  What is it about a writing topic that attracts us?  And is it important to choose our subject matter carefully or should we just write about any old idea that comes ambling down the pike?

I happen to have opinions on this subject.  (I know, you're shocked.)  I think the subject you choose is vital.  If you're working on a book-length project, it is doubly vital, because you are going to be working on that project for the long haul, and it is very easy to get bored.  I know this from first-hand experience.  And the three novels I started and abandoned in between the one I'm marketing and the one I'm writing are testament to the boredom factor. 

They also attest to the mysterious state when you're working on something and it just doesn't feel right.  The muse, she is a strange creature and sometimes she feeds you ideas that aren't really meant to be developed.  (Which is why I like keeping an idea book, and jamming thoughts and snippets in it, all together.  Then half-baked ideas mate with other semi-developed thoughts and create full ideas.)  I once heard a writer say that ideas are like trains coming down the track–and if you don't jump on them as they come to you, the moment for that idea has passed you by.  Not sure I agree with that, do you?

As I've been pondering this topic, I've come up with some things that denote a good writing topic.  So herewith, hallmarks of a good writing idea:

  • It makes your heart go pitty-pat and you get an ineffable feeling of happiness and connection when you ponder it. (I say ponder on purpose, because generally this is a feeling that will come over you before or after you write, not necessarily during.)
  • The subject never bores you.  As mentioned above, you're going to be working with this idea for a good, long time, so if you're struggling to stay interested, that's a bad sign.  A very bad sign.
  • The topic is something dear to your heart, something you believe in fervently and really want to share with the world.  Fervor feeds feeling and feeling feeds writing.
  • It just feels right when you're working on it.  I know, I know, this is a bit vague, but I think you know what I mean.
  • You don't have to force yourself to work on it.  I realized this with a novel I attempted to create.  I hated working on it.  I could barely force myself to open the file.  Whereas I could barely keep myself away from the other novels I've written. (Until I got infatuated with Pinterest. Sigh.)

Okay, your turn.

Create as successful, inspired writing life: Run your latest idea through the above points.  Does it fit?  You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by choosing the right idea.  But don't worry, sometimes it takes a few false starts before an idea sticks.

Please comment.  I'd love to hear how you choose writing ideas, and if you have a criteria for which ones to follow through on.   What's the farthest you've ever gotten before abandoning a writing project?


Photo credit: brokenarts.

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9 Responses to Hallmarks of a Good Writing Idea

  1. Sue Mitchell 02/17/2012 at 10:01 #

    I don’t think I agree about having only one chance to jump on an idea train either. Sometimes you’re not ready to direct your focus on it yet. But noticing and recording the idea will help plant it in the back of your mind so that you can be creating connections between it and other ideas for however long you need. Eventually, it may be an idea whose time has come.

    I love your list of questions to see if an idea is worth committing to. I definitely judge my ideas with my body and emotions and listen for that pitter-pat of the heart.

    With a long project, though, there are going to be days when you hate the project and don’t want to open the file, even if it used to be the love of your life. There’s a predictable point when this is likely to happen, and often you can push through it if you get back in touch with what attracted you in the beginning. Just like our relationships with people! I think you’re really lucky, Charlotte, if you’ve loved a project all the way through. Definitely marry that one! πŸ˜€

  2. Charlotte Dixon 02/17/2012 at 10:05 #

    Sue, you’re right–sometimes an idea comes back around in slightly different form and you just had to wait for that form to come together. And your comments on working on a long project are well taken. I’ve been in the middle of a novel and have no idea how I’m going to get to the end. But then something makes my heart leap again and back I go. Thanks, as always, for coming by.

  3. Carole Jane Treggett 02/17/2012 at 14:18 #

    Charlotte, the questions you provide in this post have helped me more than you could know. I’ve been stalling on progress/finishing with writing/preparing an eBook, some posts, and other content for a new website project I wanted to launch by the middle of March. I considered that maybe the glitch was losing interest in my subject matter, but truthfully I’m still passionate about it all.

    So like Sue mentioned, I looked at my ‘relationship’ with my project with new appreciation and ardor after reading these questions, realizing I totally love my project and the potential of it all. I know I definitely want to go the distance and remain faithful to this one by going forward and offering tangible proof that I’m willing to take the risk of seeing it to fruition and beyond. I’m finally allowing myself to be a little excited about the preparation of putting it ‘out there’ too now πŸ˜€

  4. Charlotte Dixon 02/17/2012 at 14:59 #

    Oh Carole Jane, you just made my Friday! I’m so glad this was helpful. And it sounds to me as if you are a typical overloaded creative type–so many wonderful projects to work on at once! It’s no wonder we get overloaded once in awhile. I can’t wait to see what your Ebook is about, I know you’ll share it here with us, one way or another, perhaps through a guest post? Happy weekend!

  5. Jessica Baverstock 02/17/2012 at 16:18 #

    The analogy of the train stresses me out just thinking about it! I couldn’t bear the thought that I might miss one of my ideas.

    I think of ideas more like flowers. When you first see them they are beautiful, colourful, fragrant – perhaps still opening. They capture your attention and brighten your life.

    However, in their fresh state they only have a limited life (but longer than a train hurtling by). It’s up to you what you do with them.

    Do you put it in water and admire it for a limited time, perhaps its natural life? Some ideas should be used this way, as they only apply for a week or two. Blog about those, share your fresh idea and then once it has naturally wilted, pick yourself another flower.

    If this is a flower worth keeping, now is the time to either hang it up somewhere to dry (write it on a sticky note or attach to your vision board) or press it between the pages (write it in your journal or your work in progress).

    Some ideas take time to dry before they are useful again. It’s okay for ideas to remain between their pages for days, weeks, months, even years!

    When you see this idea again, it’s not going to be as bright and vibrant as it was when fresh, but now it contains a different beauty – a subtler aroma, a gentler hue and a different texture. Most importantly, it’s now in a state that will *last*.

    Whether you display this flower individually, or mix it in with other flowers to make a potpourri, is up to you and the type of flower.

    I agree, there are some ideas that start out great but then fade once we get into the middle of them. I don’t think they are wasted though. I’ve seen my faded ideas reappear somewhere else to be mixed in with another project.

    There are so many uses for dried flowers and ideas. If you respect them and care for them, there will always be surprises between your pages.

  6. Jessica Baverstock 02/17/2012 at 16:20 #

    Wow. That analogy took on a life of its own! And I think I completely wandered off the topic you were talking about.

    That was so much fun! I think I’m going to write my own post about it. :)

  7. Don 02/17/2012 at 19:21 #

    Some ideas you have to really work on.

    Some ideas, however, just seem to go… pop… and there they be in your old noggin, and all without much thinking or effort on your part at all!

    However, being the strange fellow that I am, I have this really strange idea generating trick…. I will sleep on it!

    I do that by having a nice launch, think about what I want to write about before going for my nappy, and then drift off to dreamland, a land of endless possibilities and one with virtually no restriction on my ideas!

    Somehow, as strange as it might seem, I find that once I’m off in slumber land that even though my tired old body might be asleep, my old noggin is anything but. Yes sir, once asleep I will unconsciously start mulling over in my sleep anything that I was thinking about while I was awake. However, unlike when I’m fully awake, when I’m asleep or even half asleep, my mind is now in a much more relaxed state, and a state where I’m now totally free from the distractions and restrictions that I find when I’m wide awake.

    For example: while I”m awake I may not be able to fly like a bird, or be able to leap over tall buildings, but I sure can do all that and more while I’m in a dream-like state, where my ideas are unencumbered by normal thought restrictions but are now totally free and unhindered to develop in ways that I never could think of while I’m fully awake!

    This may be a strange hallmark of generating a good idea, but the strangest thing about it is that somehow, even though I really don’t why, it nonetheless seems to just bloody work… at least most of the time, but not necessarily all of the time!

    In other words, the old saying is true: “Got a problem…. sleep on it!”

  8. Charlotte Dixon 02/18/2012 at 08:30 #

    Jessica, I’m so pleased that everyone is rejecting the train analogy I mentioned. And I love your metaphor of the flower. The other thing I love about you is that you are a writing writer. Give you a topic and you go–it is absolutely wonderful and I feel blessed that you take the time to write comments on my blog. Thank you. I’m going to think of ideas in terms of flowers from now on.

  9. Charlotte Dixon 02/18/2012 at 08:32 #

    Don, Wow this is my day to get long, wonderful comments! Really enjoyed reading about your dream life and how it impacts your writing. My favorite part is your assertion that you don’t know how, but it just “bloody works.” I had some amazing dreams last night but woke up and forgot them. I still don’t have much luck recalling them. Any tips?

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