(Image from Flickr by erichhh)

This is the second post in a two-part series about ideas. You can find the first part here: How to Come Up With Lots of Great Ideas.

Thanks for this post! I don’t have trouble coming up with ideas; it is more about whether the idea is actually good or not and whether it fits within my blog niche. Guess I need to work on #1 and not judge my ideas!

(Kalyn, in a comment on Ideas #1: How to Come Up With Lots of Great Ideas)

Kalyn raises an excellent point: how do we figure out whether an idea’s worth pursuing or not?

This is an issue that I face every day. Like I mentioned in the last post, I use around a quarter of my ideas – the rest, for a number of reasons, get discarded.

Use or Lose? How to Sift Through Your Ideas

When you’re deciding whether or not to use an idea, you’ll want to consider:

#1: Does it Grab You?

If an idea leaves you feeling uninspired and bored, then it’s probably not worth pursuing. Don’t write something because you feel like you should.

If you’ve got an idea that you think you do want to stick with, even though it doesn’t interest you, look for an angle that makes it more attractive.

#2: Can You Write It?

Some ideas are interesting and engaging … but they might be a struggle for you to write. I ditch any ideas that require too much research (yes, I’m lazy!)

Keep your ideas: you might find that, one day, you’ve gained the writing skills or the subject knowledge to tackle the hard ones.

#3: Will it Find an Audience?

This isn’t always a consideration – but if you’re writing for money, then you need to keep in mind the market potential of your idea.

When I’m deciding what to blog about or what to create my next ecourse on, I look at what resonates with my readers. Sometimes I run surveys to find out which of my ideas will be most popular.

 

It’s worth keeping in mind that your ideas aren’t generally “bad” or “good” – they’re right for you and your audience or they aren’t.

Once you’ve picked an idea that excites you – and that’s going to suit your audience, if applicable – then it’s time to turn it from an initial spark into a plan.

Developing Your Idea

There are plenty of ways to flesh out ideas, but these are three of my favourites – they should work for fiction and non-fiction writing projects. If you’re writing something short (like a blog post or a short story) you can pick one of these method and plan out the whole thing. If you’re writing something longer (like an ebook or a novel) these methods will give you a good starting point.

#1: Draw a Mindmap

A mindmap can be as simple or as complex as you want. I usually draw mine on paper, putting the core of my idea in the centre of the page and jotting down thoughts around the side.

Mindmaps are great ways to bring the right side of your brain – your creativity – into play. A mindmap lets you look at different possibilities, form connections and come up with more ideas as you’re working.

Try it:

Get a piece of paper and flesh out one of your ideas. Or, if you prefer, use a piece of software like XMind (the basic version is free).

Example:

In the last post, I came up with an idea, 5 Easy Ways to Find Your Writing Voice. This is my expanded version:

#2: Ask Questions

If you’re struggling to come up with the sub-points for your blog post or the plot points for your story, then start asking questions.

For non-fiction, you can ask questions like:

  • What does the reader already know – and what do I need to tell them?
  • Why is this particular topic important?
  • How can I break this down into simple steps for the reader?

For fiction, you can ask questions like:

  • Who’s the hero of this story?
  • What obstacles are standing between the hero and his/her goal?
  • How can I make the reader really care about the outcome?

As you ask questions, you’ll find that your idea becomes clearer in your mind.

Try it:

Pick one of your ideas and start asking yourself questions. You can use the ones above to get you going, if you want.

Answer the questions in writing – don’t just think through the answers. You’ll be pushed to think more rigorously, and you’ll have a record of your ideas.

Example:

One of my ideas last time was “What’s the distinction between “good work” and “great work” for an entrepreneurial writer?”

Some obvious questions come up for me when I look at that idea:

Will my readers already be familiar with the “good work” and “great work” terms?

Not necessarily – I’ll need to explain these, probably by quoting from Michael Bungay Stainer’s book “Do More Great Work

What’s “good work” for a writer?

Writing that’s fairly routine and humdrum – maybe it pays the bills.

Twitter, emails, Facebook … all the fun but distracting things which go along with being an entrepreneurial writer!

What’s “great work” for a writer?

Depends on the individual. Mention Pace and Kyeli’s “World-Changing Writing Workshop”. Writing that ties into your core values, projects that push you a step further in your career (rather than ones which keep you where you currently are).

As you can see, I’ve now got a clear idea of what I might include in the post.

 

#3: Create an Outline

Some ideas are fairly straightforward. You might have a clear(ish) picture of what to include already. If that’s the case, a simple outline might be enough to flesh your idea out.

An outline is just a linear list, in order, of the main points that you want to cover. These key points can often become your subheadings or chapters.

Your outline can be very high-level (e.g a list of ten chapters for an ebook) or very detailed (a list of subsections for each chapter with several bullet points for each).

 

Try it:

Choose one of your ideas and create an outline: write down three – five key points that you want to cover, in order. (Don’t worry too much about the order being exact: you can always change it later.)

 

Example:

One of my ideas last time was for more posts on Aliventures about writing fiction. This is a big topic – too much for a single post – but I could write a series. Here’s a potential outline:

  1. Basics of fiction (different forms)
  2. Can I Get Rich Writing Fiction? (answer: probably not)
  3. How to Develop a Character
  4. How to Write a Story Outline
  5. Ten Tips for Revising Your Fiction

 

So – what ideas have you developed? I’d love to hear about yours in the comments! And if there’s an idea that I’ve fleshed out above which you’d like to see me write, let me know… 🙂