Friday, July 10, 2009

Idea versus Execution

I’m giving a talk on craft tomorrow for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in Colorado Springs, called “Write It Right.” I’ve promised to focus on all the details of the wonderful craft of writing, from establishing point of view, to handling dialogue, to putting the commas in the right places. (I love every little tiny rule for where the commas go!)

But it occurred to me after I signed up to give the talk that while craft is extremely important, it isn’t ALL important. All the craft in the world for executing a book idea won’t redeem a mediocre idea in the first place - a ho-hum, done-ten-thousands-of-times before idea. I know. I’ve written (and published) books with some pretty generic, familiar premises, and I’ve also written (and published) books with much more original and fresh premises. I won’t say here which books of mine I think fall into each category (I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the poor books in the first category), but I can say that the books in the second category garnered stronger reviews and sales.

My writer friend Leslie O’Kane and I hit on the following analogy that is helpful here. In the Olympics, gymnasts receive two scores for their routines: one is a score for execution (how well was it done?), but the other is a score for the difficulty and challenge of the routine itself. Even flawless marks for execution will not win a medal if the routine itself isn’t worthy of those efforts.

Now I’m trying to make sure that my new book ideas are worthy of as many marks as possible. Brilliant idea first, then flawless insertion of commas. That is my plan!

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