Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ideas: Don't Trust the First One

Technique Tuesday

Last year I encouraged you not to stop with one good idea. Implicit in that advice was the assumption that you started with a good idea. Being certain that you have a good idea is much harder than recognizing when your idea falls short of good.

The first litmus test for a poor idea is simple: is it your first idea?

In the game show Family Feud, the challenge wasn't to come up with the correct answer but to guess the answers most likely to be given by the hundred people surveyed. Of the four or five hidden answers, the top one or two usually account for more than half the responses. That is, the first answer that came to mind for a person taking the survey likely came to mind to every second or third person taking the survey.

As we've often observed, 'novel,' means, 'new.' If you go with your first idea, you stand a good chance of going down a well-worn path. If you want to be a novelist, you must internalize Monty Python's catch phrase, "And now for something completely different."

But this isn't novelty simply for novelty's sake. The deeper question is how can you take the raw conceptual material and make it your own.

Chances are, your first idea really isn't your idea. (Why, after all, did so many of the people surveyed for the game show come up with the same answer?) It's simply the first association that bubbled up into your consciousness. The first association is likely the strongest, having been reinforced by external influences. To make the idea your own, you need to let it steep in your unique soup of mental associations until it morphs into something that's unmistakably you.


Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net