A question came up on Twitter that I’d like to address:
Is it more important to have good ideas or good craft as a writer?
A professional writer had told the questioner that good ideas were more important than good craft; that agents and editors needed something unique to sell and they could edit it better later but they can’t add ideas.
In my opinion, this sort of dichotomy misses the point entirely, and, on top of that I feel that the professional writer’s answer (whoever they were, I don’t know) was biased by their status as a professional writer.
To a professional writer who has already achieved a certain level of craft, the level of craft is no longer a factor. To a professional writer with a sufficient level of craft, they no longer have to worry about craft.
They should, because you can always get better. But it may appear to a writer at a certain level of craft as though it’s the ideas that are the issue, not the craft, if they get accepted or turned down on a proposal or submission.
In my opinion, here’s the actual answer.
- You have to have a certain level of craft before you’re worth editing.
- That level of craft appears to involve the intermediate-level skills I’ve been talking about on this blog: pacing, structure (not plot), control of sensory details, character voice, and information flow.
- Once you have that level of craft, readers who are not mostly like you can enjoy reading your work, and you have a wide enough appeal.
- Craft is a factor but not the factor.
- Ideas are a dime a dozen; without craft, they’re worth nothing.
- A good, hooky idea is worth something, but cannot on its own guarantee success.
- An “original” idea probably isn’t.
- People enjoy remakes, retellings, and tropes more than originality in every art form imaginable; truly original work can take years to appreciate.
- For example, it always takes me 2-4 years to appreciate a new Bjork album. And I like her stuff.
- Ideas are a factor in the success of a story but not the factor either.
What is it, then? What is the secret key to success as a writer?
Make the reader feel something.
No one element of writing arouses feeling in a reader. Each element of writing exists because it contributes to, and controls, the arousal of feeling–but it is all of those elements working in concert that causes the arousal.
Including, and especially, the reader.
(In other words, please don’t take it personally if people don’t like your stuff.)
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