Ideas are cheap, execution is everything. You’ve probably heard this phrase or some variation of it a million times already. It’s a phrase often repeated by authors and entrepreneurs alike, probably to people who bugged them about this great idea they have and they totally should buy that idea from them and it would earn them a million bucks and… Anyway, it’s true. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Most people probably have an idea for a novel in their head. I’m certain that at least every other reader has one.
There’s this story that Brandon Sanderson always talks about when it comes to ideas. If you’re an avid Sanderson like myself, you’ll have heard it in some of his lecturers or workshops. Once upon a time, not so long ago, there were two guys arguing in a forum about writing. Let’s call them Guy A and Guy B. Guy A states that ideas were quintessential to a story, that a great novel needs to originate from a great idea. Guy B believes in the opposite, saying that a good writer can turn even the lamest ideas into something great. Guy A then challenges Guy B to turn what he considers two lame ideas into something great – “The Lost Roman Legion” and “Pokemon”. The result was Codex Alera, a fantasy series by Jim Butcher. Butcher is also the author of the Dresden Files. (Seriously though, Lost Legion and Pokemon are totally neat ideas.)
But don’t get me wrong. Ideas do vary in quality and having a good idea is helpful. But ideas are the easy part. I should know. I have this folder in my computer that I call the Idea Vault. It’s just a folder of notes and word documents with ideas that can potentially be a story. And there’s tons of them. I write down every idea I think of, whether it came from a dream or if I was just staring at the clouds and thinking how they looked like a prince dancing with a princess and then the princess shaped cloud turned into a dragon and I thought that maybe the prince is on a quest to kill a dragon who turns out to be the shape shifted form of the princess that he loves and he needs to come to terms that which side of him must he be, the dragon slaying prince that killed his beloved or the prince that failed who marries his love. And yeah… that second part is something I just made up and not actually inside my folder, but you get the idea, ideas can come easily.
However, while good ideas can make for a good novel, execution is nine times more important. A good idea with poor execution is a disaster while poor ideas and good execution can still make a story work. Ever thought why a book’s premise seemed so great, but the book itself was lackluster? That’s why. Execution is the thing that differentiates between amateur writers, like myself, and the professionals. Thankfully, execution is a skill that can be learned, honed and improved. And how do you improve it? By turning ideas into novels over and over again, aka, keep writing.