Do you rush into using your first idea? It’s a common issue for writers and shuts down the possibility of improvement. Using your first idea without question can cause significant issues later.
Because the idea serves its purpose, there’s little incentive in stopping to think about alternatives. But, by running with your first thought, are you preventing it from becoming a great idea?
Instead, developing a range of ideas increases the chance of creating something special. Interrogating your thoughts lets you uncover potential problems, spot clichés, and develop them into fully formed concepts.
Why We Want to Stick with Our First Idea
When you start writing, you have the luxury of time to mull over every decision. Fast-forward an approaching deadline, or an editor waiting for your draft, and your first idea will have to do.
The same happens when you must complete a piece of writing quickly. Short deadlines create a sense of panic. You launch into writing your first idea without giving it much further thought. It can feel like you’re wasting time by spending it deciding rather than writing.
Alternatively, if something has taken a long time to create, smaller decisions can seem unimportant. You quickly think of a good idea and go with it because it does the job.
Problems with First Ideas
When you run with your first idea, you risk encountering problems later. Whether you’re writing novels or business content, this means hefty, time-consuming rewrites. Stopping to think ideas through carefully can save you time in the long run.
Often first ideas are accidental plagiarism. Your first thought is probably something you’ve read or seen somewhere else. You risk copying someone else’s work. At the best you’ll create a tired cliché, at worse, you’ll face legal consequences.
Choosing the wrong idea can also be costly. For example, a poor subject line could reduce your email open rate and a bad title will turn potential readers off your novel.
How to Generate More Ideas
Creating more ideas gives you the luxury of choice. It allows you to question your decisions and analyze the effect on the overall piece. Whilst you will discard bad ideas, other good ones can be kept to use in the future. Idea generation means never worrying about what you will write next because you have a bank of ideas ready.
Writers often struggle to think of lots of new ideas, which is why they stick with their first one. Try these eight simple techniques to help you come up with a wider range.
Put your central concept in the middle and write every idea you can think of around the outside. Add in silly thoughts and ones you know are awful to help you get started.
The trick is not to edit as you go. Wait until later to find the good ideas amongst the bad ones.
2. Concept Map
Linked to brainstorming, concept maps create an organized way to list your ideas by sorting them into categories. You can use a simple piece of paper or try an online program. This fantastic tutorial by Creately will help you get started.
3. Use a Notepad
Good ideas don’t arrive on order! Keep a notepad with you to record thoughts that pop into your head whilst you’re away from your desk. Most phones have free applications for note-taking or use a voice recorder if you’d prefer not to write.
Dedicate a short amount of time to regular freewriting. Lots of writers use this technique at the beginning of the day before starting work.
The trick to freewriting is not to plan. Just start writing about anything that crosses your mind. This is a great technique for breaking through the dreaded writer’s block.
5. Collaborate with Others
Many writers enjoy being part of a writing group. It’s a place you can ask for support from fellow authors. Try joining ProWritingAid’s friendly Facebook group or search for online forums.
Other writers rely on friends and families to test their ideas. Just remember they can’t offer you an unbiased opinion and are likely to think everything you write is wonderful!
6. Change Location
It's hard to think creatively when you’re sat at the same desk. Change your perspective by moving locations. Sit in a garden or park, take a walk, or visit a museum to find inspiration in unusual places.
7. Read More
The best writers are readers too. Build regular time for reading into your schedule. Avoid sticking exclusively to the same genre to inspire you in new ways.
8. Create a Swipe File
Swipe files are commonly used by copywriters, but authors can use them too. Collect ideas you like so you can refer back to them when you need inspiration. There are many free online systems such as Trello that are perfect for organizing everything. Use this blog from Copyhackers to learn how to start your own swipe file.
Ways to Develop Better Ideas
Once you have a good idea, it’s time to let it grow from good to great. Instead of rushing straight into your first thought, see what you can do to improve it further. You’ll be surprised how many amazing ideas turn out to be dull or unworkable once you’ve interrogated them.
Try these techniques to improve your initial ideas:
- Move from a generic idea to a specific one by adding details to flesh it out
- Treat your initial thoughts as planted seeds and let them grow
- Leave your idea to mature for as long as possible before going back to it
- Interrogate your thoughts by asking ‘what if’ questions to find problems
- Flip your idea to take the opposite perspective
The biggest problem with first ideas is how we treat them. They become too treasured. Have you heard the advice of William Faulkner who said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings”? Apply this concept to your ideas as well as your writing.
Have you become so precious about an idea that you can’t look at it dispassionately? Are your friends and writing group saying it won’t work? If so, write it down somewhere and move on. You can always return to it in the future.
The Benefits of Not Accepting Your First Idea
Ideas are not apples plucked fully formed from the tree. Instead, think of them as hidden gemstones, only found by careful digging and polishing.
When you shape, interrogate, and improve your first ideas, you end up with something more rounded. There’s less chance of a problem surfacing later on to trip you up. You know your idea will work because you’ve investigated it from every angle.
You can modify a first idea or reject it entirely when a better one comes to mind. It's an opportunity to move beyond tired clichés and slavish imitations to create something fresh and new. It’s a chance to discover a different perspective.