Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Recognizing a Great Idea

Last night I taught the first of a 5-part Writer's Workshop at the Coloma Library.

The general topic was "The Care and Feeding of the Creative Gift." We began with a discussion about "What makes a Great Idea?" We focused on how to recognize something brilliant when it occurred, and how to apply the "great" filter to our current projects.

In order to qualify as "Great," an idea must first pass the Personal Litmus Test. You must be able to honestly answer "Yes" to two questions:

1. Is it worthwhile? and
2. Does it interest me?

(Be honest here. How much does it push my buttons and get me fired up? Can I obsess about it, study it, research it, live it, breathe it, eat it and sleep it from now until it’s done? If not... it's not great. Dedicate your valuable time to working on something else.)

The next series of hoops the Idea must jump through are the rather mercenary ones that a publisher is going to put in its way. These include questions such as:

* Is there a universal touchstone / chord?
* Does it have an audience?
* Does it fit into a genre?

(The answers must be "yes," or the idea is dead in the water. What the writer must do, however, is answer the following:

What do I know about this audience?
How well do I like this demographic?
What do I have to offer that has not yet been done?
What do I have to say that had not yet been said?
What do I know about the genre?
How well do I like my competition?
How will this contribute to what’s out there?

Finally, the Idea must jazz you enough for you to answer these questions in the unequivocal affirmative:

(*) Am I willing to do whatever it takes for this to find an audience?
(*) Will I accept responsibility for promoting this when it’s done?
(*) Can I envision great success for this?

I told my students what I tell every aspiring writer: Passion is key. If the answer to ANY of these primary questions is “NO,” then walk away. Don’t waste your time or energy, because life is too short to waste it on something that doesn't move you.

Lack of knowledge is not a limiting factor. Knowledge is readily available.
Lack of enthusiasm, however, is a kiss of death.

In Other News

Work on polishing the Marathon Man script and crafting the book proposal progresses. Both our subject and his lovely wife are being wonderfully helpful and forthcoming.

Speaking of Great Ideas -- I had one today that impacts this project. If it pans out, it could be the "Excitement Meter" equivalent of setting off a fireworks display in a candle store. Further bulletins on that front as events warrant.

I'll be attending the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Conference this year. I haven't been there since Cassandra was born. (In fact, this past week, I just got back a script with consult notes from a friend that I met there when she was a panelist 8 years ago. How time flies...) I'd love to have the Running script done in time to enter it in the screenplay competition. But that's looking doubtful. Considering throwing one or two others in the ring, though. Further bulletins to follow on that front as well...