The other day I was going home from work and I was behind a truck that had some bumper stickers that gave me an idea of what the driver was like. So I started thinking how they would react if they saw a car with, basically, the opposite type of bumper sticker. This led to a really, really, bad joke. The kind of joke that could be taken a couple of different ways so it would have offended several, even opposing, groups of people. As I drove home I tried to condense everything down to a tweet, along the lines of “Which group would be offended most by a bumper sticker reading: X.”
That’s when two problems cropped up. The first was that the “joke” was too long to really fit in a tweet. But the second, bigger problem was that the “joke” – which I had spent minutes patting myself on the back for its cleverness – wasn’t that funny. The jokey bit of the joke was in that gray area of humor between something most people would automatically see what’s funny and where you’d have to give a little hint so they would know where to look for the funny bit.
What does that have to do with writing? I don’t know how many times I’ve had an idea for “The Great American Short Story,” or whatever which I think is absolutely fantastic. But after thinking about it for a bit I’ll realize that the stunning plot twist doesn’t make any sense or the deep meaning the work is supposed to have isn’t all that deep. Sometimes these realizations come up almost immediately, but sometimes they’re days or weeks later. Meaning if I had immediately started working on this “incredible” new story, whatever I had written might have ended up in the “Never to be finished, and that’s probably for the best” pile.
Now I’m not saying that everything you write has to be fantastic. But the shininess of newness disguises many “bad” ideas. So take a bit of time and see if that fantastic idea is really all that fantastic.