The pressure’s on. You have a deadline (either external, or self-imposed) and you need to come up with an idea. You cogitate for a while, and nothing jumps to mind. You start to panic. Come on! Where is it? I just need an idea for my article/story/novel …
Suddenly, you have one! Great! And so you get to work.
But stop. Just consider your idea for a moment. This is your first idea. First ideas generally tend to be weak, ill-thought out affairs. Sometimes the reason may not become apparent until you’re too far along the writing process. Then, with ever-closer deadline looming, you’re forced to do whatever you can to rectify things, even if the solution doesn’t quite work.
The best solution is to spend more time thinking in the first place.
Some magazines I work for invite pitches. They may give a theme, topical hook, or subject matter to focus on but, apart from that, they’re open to ideas.
Invariably, my first idea is the weakest.
Bring a group of writers together and ask them for some ideas and chances are you’ll make similar suggestions. (Great minds think alike 😝.)
So, if you’re having similar ideas to those other writers, then how great an idea is it, really?
This happens more frequently when it comes to seasonal articles or stories. As soon as any sort of constraint is imposed, it seems to narrow the focus, leading to more people having similar ideas.
Having similar ideas is not a bad thing, as such, (you could argue it means you’re thinking along the right lines). However, it’s only a bad thing if you and everyone else acts upon that similar idea. Now you really are in competition with other writers.
The best solution is to daydream. Allow yourself time to think things through. (It’s why many writers enjoy journalling, the Morning Pages technique, or stream-of-consciousness writing.) This allows you to have that initial idea (that everyone else may be having), but it also encourages you to continue thinking, developing, and churning your thoughts.
Thinking time is not wasted time. Not if it allows you to develop a better idea.
The April issue of BBC Countryfile has a spring theme (understandably) this month, and its Great Days Out section continues with the spring flower theme.
When I heard this was their April theme, my first idea was bluebell woods. April is perfect for bluebells walks, through wonderful woodlands, perfect for dodging those April showers.
But it was my first idea.
I cogitated a bit longer. Daffodils. Daisies. Blossom? I wasn’t sure. Then I wondered about location. Would my idea stand out more if I chose a more unusual location? I opted for a coastal walk through a variety of habitats giving readers a greater opportunity of experiencing a broad range of floral views.
It’s always interesting to see what other writers come up with. The magazine’s Great Days Out section began with a great piece about bluebells … but also wood sorrel and stitchwort.
There were ideas that focused on cowslips and orchids, mountain flowers, cyclamens, and even fritillaries. And while one writer had homed in on daffodils, they’d twisted the idea slightly, by coming up with not one but six great places across the UK to see daffodils.
And my piece turned out to be the only one with a coastal location. Not my first idea, but probably a better one, and definitely a more successful one.
So remember, thinking time is not wasted time. Daydreaming is good, if it results in more, and better, ideas.