Yes, it is a good idea

New writers often post in forums to ask if this idea they have is a good one. They post a summary of it and request that strangers offer harsh critique of the idea and opinions of whether they should continue writing the story. Regardless of whether I like the idea or not, the answer is always “yes.” Why? Because if that’s what the writer wants to write, who am I to tell them no?

The problem is that these new writers misunderstand what makes a story successful. The idea is not sacred. An experienced writer has dozens of them a day. Ideas aren’t stories. Ideas are just one of the building blocks of stories. It is a writer’s job to transform those ideas, to develop them into characters and plots and to deliver them to the reader in a compelling narrative. That is what makes a story: the hard work that comes after the idea.

Asking someone to evaluate an idea and pass judgement on whether the writer should continue speaks of a lack of self-confidence. It demonstrates the need of the writer to gain validation – something all writers need at some point, I believe, but which is pursued in different ways by different writers. This particular type of request for validation comes across as hollow, because all the writer has done is write down their idea. They haven’t developed it, started writing it, worked on it and beaten it into shape. They haven’t produced something by which more experienced writers can form an opinion and provide honest and helpful feedback.

An author who posts an excerpt of their novel and requests feedback is for the most part seeking to use that feedback to make improvements to their writing and thereby make progress as a writer and refine their book. While there might be a side effect that they also gain validation through praise of those who respond, that is not the goal of the exercise, most of the time (and when it is, it’s easy to tell because those who offer honest critique receive replies that discount their advice and feedback, like “it’s meant to be like that” or “but in the next chapter X happens so this makes sense then” rather than thanks and “yes, I need to develop that bit better”).

But someone asking for opinions on an idea appears to be seeking validation first, and honest feedback second (no matter how much they insist they want harsh critique). Because how can anyone give honest feedback on an idea? Yes, some ideas at first don’t seem like such a good idea, and some sound derivative or are presented in a confusing manner, but as Jim Butcher has demonstrated with the Codex Alera series (which reportedly began as a challenge by another writer to use two bad ideas to create a good story), the idea isn’t what matters so much as how you execute it. What matters is what you turn that idea into.

And until you do turn that idea into something, asking for feedback on it is as effective as asking a book reviewer to give a star rating on a book based only on the blurb.

Write something, then ask for feedback.

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