Guest Post: How Do You Choose Your Next Big Writing Idea?

an open hand under a lightbulb suspended in space, lit up

Do you play catch with your creative ideas?
Image by Junior Ferreira on Unsplash

Here’s a new guest post from award-winning children’s author and writing coach Dianne Ochiltree. Dianne walks us through the process she uses to discern which one writing idea to develop next. Enjoy!  ~ AMC

You’re a writer. You have story ideas. Lots of them! And whether it’s something you’ve consciously crafted from research, or an unexpected gift from your unconscious, it’s important to figure out which ones to develop into stories once they’ve arrived.

Catch Them

The first thing to do, of course, is catch them the moment they pop into your mind. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a story idea come and go, because I didn’t stop whatever I was doing to take the few minutes it would take to write it down.)

Use whatever shorthand methods you need to pull you back to that vision of a potential piece of fiction or nonfiction. A laundry list, freehand doodles, maybe a Venn diagram? Don’t forget to tuck them away ASAP into an ‘Ideas’ folder. Let them rest there until you’ve wrapped up your current WIP and are ready to choose what you’ll work on next.


Make a date to spend time brainstorming with the idea nuggets tucked in your file. Give yourself a few unhurried and uninterruptable hours, sifting through all those big ideas of yours.

Weed out anything that now strikes you as ‘meh.’ Sad but true: some ideas sound great the moment you think of them, which is why you wrote them down. But later? Not so much.

Is anything in the first round of selected ideas one you believe you could write convincingly, passionately, and from a unique perspective? Good. These have survived round two.

Find The Love Matches

Next, which ideas could you love so much that you could happily spend a long, long, looooooong time with them? Because you inevitably will do so for any story you decide to develop fully. Now you have a shorter stack of potential story ideas to develop into your next WIP.

What’s Your Why?

Then pull out an intriguing idea and start figuring out your ‘why’ for this one. This might sound counterintuitive. The idea came to your brain, so isn’t it a no-brainer that you, as author, would know the attraction? Maybe yes, maybe no. Taking the time now to dissect the reasons why the idea tickled your creative fancy, as well as figuring out what makes you the perfect writer to flesh it out, will save a lot of time later when you sit down to the keyboard.

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
Stephen King

Ask yourself questions like: what take-away message do I hope readers discover through this story?  What makes me uniquely qualified to tell it? Who is my ideal reader? Why does the world need this story right now? How is it different from other stories about the same theme/topic/subject? And so on.

Writing all this down gives you a road map for crafting this piece. Identifying both your passion points and personal perspective are keys to fueling your writing process. You have an accurate ‘tank of gas’ measurement of your ability to bring this germ of an idea to life.

Pick a Winner

You might do this sort of Q&A with 3-5 ideas that jump out at you from your short stack. Trust your gut instinct on which one is the winner for now. Probably a good idea to keep your notes on the others, filing them away as ‘Ideas to Pursue.’

Now dive into the fun part, and give that winning idea a lovely, messy first draft. Write big or go home!

There isn’t any sure-fire way to ensure our stories are going to see the light of a publishing contract. But this type of winnowing process for selecting the right story idea to develop into your next writing projects may well increase your odds of enjoying the ride.

Dianne Ochiltree is an award-winning children’s author and writing coach. Learn more about her books and her critique services at Read her previous guest blog on steering clear of critique group envy.