There was a post on Writers' Chasm about which was more important: the idea, or the execution that got me thinking about how both are vital, but each takes precedence at different points of a writing career. Focusing too much on one at the wrong time might even cause you some extra headaches--and might even be the reason for some common headaches most writers go through.
For those heading down the writing path, consider where you are on that journey when deciding where to put your creative energy.
Still Finding Your Feet
When you first start writing, it’s all about execution, because writing builds off itself. Understanding what makes an effective paragraph takes the same basic structure (and skill set) that writing an effective scene does: something interesting to catch a reader's attention, compelling information to keep them reading, and something at the end that intrigues them to move to the next piece. Learning how to construct a great sentence, build paragraphs that draw you along, create imagery that brings a world to life, are vital skills you’ll need to craft strong scenes and chapters.
If you have a wonderful story idea to go with developing your writing skills, that's great. But don't feel you need to find the perfect idea while you're still learning, or feel as though you can't write that book until you do find the perfect idea. The better your writing skill, the easier it will be to write a compelling novel.
Still Learning to Walk
After you’ve developed your basic writing skills and have a solid understanding of the mechanics of writing, story ideas become more important. Now it’s time to train yourself to execute those ideas in a compelling way. Spend time learning how to tell a story and finding your voice. Explore the best ways to deliver your story to the reader. A strong story is more than just words on a page, it’s how those words are organized into scenes, how those characters are built, how that world is crafted. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect or even all that great as long as the story unfolds the way you want it to.
Learning to Run
Eventually you’ll get to a point where your story is working as intended, but you know you can make the prose better. It’s time to go back to execution. Most likely, it’s the subtleties of writing you’ll be focusing on now. The tiny tweaks that turn good prose into great prose. Tightening your pacing, clarifying dialog and internalization, smoothing your narrative flow. The polish that will make your writing shine.
By the time you’re submitting to agents and editors, it’s all about the idea, because everyone who gets published is, by default, writing at a professional level. Even if you disagree what “good” means, (it is subjective) you have to be good to even be considered. What sets one well-written book apart from the next on the stack is the idea. It’s possible (and not uncommon) to start querying before you’ve reached a professional level, so never be afraid to step back and reevaluate your writing if you get a lot of rejections. You might be a great writer, and be really close to getting your work out there, but you still have a few more steps to take. Those who can say, “okay, I know my idea is great, but my execution needs a tad more work” are those who will probably see their name in print. Just like those who know they write beautifully, and are willing to step back to find that perfect idea to showcase their skills will.
Ideas and execution. You do need both, but I think trying to do both at the same time all the time can be overwhelming. There are times when one is needed over the other, and developing both skills at different times can help build a writing foundation that is solid all the way through.
Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at Writers' Chasm.