Choosing the Best Idea
Once you've tried some of the approaches suggested above, you'll probably be surprised at how many good possibilities you came up with. Now, you have to choose one to run with.
Before you begin the decision process, let your ideas sit in your notebook or a file folder for a while. You probably won't be able to keep yourself from mulling them over at least a bit, but try to take a break from concentrating on them so you can come back to them fresh. When you're ready, give each one a good look.
Pick What's Interesting
The first criterion is whether or not the idea really captures your imagination. Does it stir your emotions? Is it something you know you can enjoyably spend a good deal of time working on? Is it something worth writing about? Writers need to be passionate about their subjects or it's likely the writing will reflect the lack of interest. If an idea doesn't grab you, you should probably put it aside. Or if something about an idea intrigues you though it doesn't excite you, give it some more thought and try to come up with a slightly different take. It's the idea that you keep thinking about, and that doesn't let you go, that's probably a good bet.
“Choice of subject is of cardinal importance. One does by far one's best work when besotted by and absorbed in the matter at hand.”
— Jessica Mitford, novelist
Pay Attention to Scope
Second, will the idea generate a work of a reasonable size? Is the subject so broad that you'll need to write a three-volume set to cover it all? That may be taking on too much, and you'll probably want to revise the idea to narrow the focus. On the flip side, is it too narrow? If it's a compelling idea, will you be able to put enough meat on its bones? Putting together a very rough outline or synopsis will help you determine this.
To see if your idea will support a good-sized story, try outlining it with cards. Screenwriters and children's book authors do this, but it's a good technique for any genre. Note each key scene on a card and pin up the cards. Too much for one work? Too little?
Consider Your Audience
A third point to consider is if the idea involves a topic that a lot of people would be interested in reading about. If you're writing for yourself, any topic that interests you is a good choice. But if you're writing with the goal of being published, you will probably want to think about ideas that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people.
Keep in mind that if your idea is one that's often the focus of articles or novels or memoirs, it may be very difficult to set it in a new light or distinguish it from other stories like it.
Check the Emotional Factor
Is your idea dramatic? Do you see ways to make it compelling? If you're planning to write a piece of fiction, can you envision engaging characters? Is there an issue to be developed — a conflict around which the story will advance? Stories need drama and tension to keep readers turning the page. Be sure your idea is filled with possibilities for drawing in an audience.