Finding Your Feet
When you first start out writing, I think it’s all about execution. Ideas are great, but until you learn your craft and build that foundation of skills, the best ideas aren’t going to get you anywhere. Also, having a familiar story or trope takes some of the pressure off, so you can focus more on the technical aspects of writing. Learning how to put a great sentence together, build paragraphs that draw you along, create imagery that brings a world to life, are vital skills you’ll need to craft great scenes and chapters.
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 your attention, compelling info to keep you reading, and something at the end that intrigues you to move to the next piece.
Learning to Walk
After you’ve developed your basic writing skills and have a solid understanding of the mechanics of writing, ideas become more important. It’s time to train yourself to execute your ideas in a compelling way. It’s about learning to be a storyteller and finding your voice. What are the best ways to deliver your story to the reader? That’s 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.