Good ideas, bad ideas – How to recognize good and bad ideas

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between good and bad ideas. But the alternative is to have no ideas at all. Because, especially at the beginning, good and bad ideas are often indistinguishable.


salvador dalì - good and bad ideasGiven at least a grain of talent, creativity can be boosted.

This is good news. In fact, it’s reassuring to be told we can take a stroll, read a book, or enroll for a creativity course to double the amount of our creative ideas, or to make them more original.

But, as it is often the case in real life, things aren’t so straightforward.

Otherwise, considering the number of books and courses devoted to creativity, lateral thinking, or whatever else we may call it, we would have droves of people coming up with spectacular new ideas all the time.

Besides, we should also recognize that creative ideas can be both good and bad ideas.

After all creative means “relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”

And original means “not dependent on other people’s ideas; inventive and unusual.”

As a result, even if becoming more creative can be helpful, it’s often just a first step on the long and sometimes quite winding path leading to creative and effective new ideas.

Good and bad ideas – they’re like twins

I don’t know what people in general do to be more creative, and the people I personally know represent too small a sample to say anything meaningful from a statistical point of view.

However, for me coming up with a large number of creative ideas has never represented a big problem. And indeed, if we look around, we can find out that many writers say the same thing.

More often than not, the problem consists in choosing the most promising ideas, in finding the time to write them down, and in using such time to actually put them down on paper–procrastination can be a difficult companion at times…

Indeed, if we think about it, even if any novel is unquestioningly unique, it’s also apparent that it can be described with a good measure of accuracy using one of the so called archetypal stories.

As a result, coming up with a general idea for a new story isn’t that difficult. Instead, it’s always when we abandon the generic and start adding details that we find the first real obstacles. Yet, without adding at least a certain amount of details we cannot really say anything meaningful about our ideas.

For example, “this guy has a powerful artifact that in the wrong hands could be used to enslave all the free people of the world. That’s why he has to destroy it.”

This is the essence of The Lord of the Rings, but no one in their right mind would ever judge such a story based on these meager two lines of text.

However there’s a way to tell apart bad and good ideas.

Evaluating ideas with objectivity

1) First of all, we must work on our ideas for a fair amount of time. We must refine them and give them a definite shape. In fact, it’s only making them more and more detailed that we can better understand their flaws and strong points.

Just think of a house with one hundred windows… It sounds an interesting idea, doesn’t it? But if we’re going to build a small house, what about the perimeter walls? Are we willing to build walls made mostly of glass? And in any case, what about the roof? Isn’t it going to crash down on our heads?

I think you get the idea.

2) The worst people at evaluating ideas are the very people who have them–even if they are professionals and can evaluate other’s ideas quite accurately. This is why you must have at least some beta readers willing to go through your work or notes and offer constructive feedback. And if your betas are also writers, all the better.

However, having betas doesn’t mean you have to put up with all they say. After all you know your story more intimately than anyone else, so you must decide what to accept and what to reject.

In any case, having a feedback circuit in place is a good thing. It helps you streamline your selection process and home in on a really effective idea more rapidly. It can also help you find the best way to express an already good idea.

good idea bad idea

Feedback – make it helpful!

3) Details and feedback are important, but even when you work hard to detail your ideas the best you can and you discuss your notes and first drafts with your beta readers and friends–the reliable ones, those who aren’t afraid of telling you that what you just wrote sucks–the chances of your coming up with a masterpiece are slim to say the least if you don’t add to the equation the third and essential element. A massive amount of work.

It may seem counterintuitive, yet if history has anything to teach us, is that all the most inventive and creative geniuses of the past have all produced a staggering mass of works, irrespective of the domain in which they operated.

The ugly duckling

Unfortunately, sometimes even if we write a lot, shape our ideas with a fair amount of details, and ask for constant feedback, a story can end up sucking majestically.

This is bad, of course. Nobody likes the idea of working hundred of hours just to come up with literary dandruff.

But even in such cases we can still profit from the experience. For example, we might discover we tend to write about the same characters over and over, or that the way we strings words together on a page is, to be magnanimous, boring and monotonous. We might also discover our beta readers are really too shy and kind to be of any use.

In any case, if we are open, we can gain useful insights and put them to good use for the next project. And the next. And the next after that.


Pictures: Tanya_Dobraya – ctribeiro

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