“You don’t read your favorite writer because they’re a master wordsmith. You read your favorite writer because their ideas are mind-blowing.
Writers: Focus on honing your ideas more than your writing ability.”
This was a tweet I sent out yesterday.
After getting some responses and favorites, I realized something interesting..
This is a controversial topic! I love controversial topics. Let’s write about it.
Sure, Writing Voice Matters A Little Bit
I’ve been a staunch critic against traditional rules of writing. I enjoy stories that are written in a loosey-goosey tone. I love reading Emily Wilcox because she plays with words like Steph Curry plays with a basketball, AND her ideas are NEW and interesting.
She bends words to her will, keeps readers engaged, and ultimately gets 100/100 points in the style category with every blog post she writes.
I’m not saying that writing voice doesn’t count for anything.
What I am saying, though, is that for every beautiful wordsmith there is who does it right (like Emily), there’s ten other so-called wordsmiths who spend more time beating around the bush than getting to the point.
They frolick around in the fields of their own genius, not realizing that half the people who were watching them got bored and left.
Focusing On Style Over Substance Is Like Watching Godzilla Vs. Kong
Godzilla vs. Kong was a hell of a movie. I watched it with my parents a few weeks back because the choices I have for entertainment these days is laughable.
I watched Kong punch Godzilla in the face. I watched Godzilla push Kong through an entire fucking building.
The fight scenes were glorious to watch. The CGI, the colors, the way the movie was shot and presented on our 60+ inch home TV was an experience in and of itself.
But I hated the movie.
It was just so damn stupid.
Godzilla vs. Kong, to me, is an example of a movie that valued style over substance.
What Happens When You Pit Style Vs. Substance?
Okay so we just talked about Godzilla vs. Kong. What happens if we made a movie called Writing Voice vs. Writing Idea?
I don’t know about you, but I want to see Writing Voice push Writing Idea through a building.
Did I just get a little too carried away? Sorry.
Imagine there was a writer who could do quadruple layout twists with their words. When they write, their sentences practically explode off the page like July 4th fireworks. They’re like the Simone Biles of writing.
Great, now imagine there was a writer who could write sentences that made you sit back in your seat and go “Wow, I never ever thought of that before.” They can quite literally rearrange your world view with every sentence they write.
Can we agree that both are mind-blowing experiences?
Good, now if we’re going to take it to the extreme, then this is what the match up will look like:
Writing Voice, while doing phenomenal quadruple twists and back handsprings, will write a bunch of nonsense sentences that quite literally don’t mean anything.
Writing Idea, while blowing our minds with life-altering ideas, will write a bunch of sentences that are drier than 40-year old bread.
Which one sounds less annoying to you? Which one sounds more useful? Which one sounds more meaningful?
I think the answer is obvious.
You might say “But, but Tom, that’s not fair! You cheated!”
Maybe I did, but you see, even when you say you prefer reading someone with a great writing voice over someone with great ideas, that person who writes in such a great voice STILL has to write ABOUT an idea for it to make sense.
They can’t just do gymnastics with their sentences — they need to make it meaningful. Human beings crave meaning. Writing voice, when taken to the extreme, is a hollow experience because it’s about nothing other than style.
What If They Had A Bit Of Both?
You might enjoy reading a wordsmith talk about taking their dog for a walk. That’s cool. I get it. I’m not dismissing that there’s people out there who simply want to enjoy the act of reading rather than think too hard about ideas and meaning.
But the best authors, the authors who write best-selling books that stand the test of time, are the ones who introduce a fundamentally NEW idea into the mix.
Mark Manson wrote an anti-self help book called “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck” that’s quite honestly a classic in my mind.
It offered a new idea to the masses: Instead of trying to make your life perfect, accept that it’s not going to perfect, and choose to give less of a fuck about the fact that it won’t be perfect.
Writing voicers out there might say “Yeah Tom, but take a look at his writing voice! It’s brash, raw, and a breath of fresh air in the personal development space.”
To that I’d say good, you’re proving my point even more.
Imagine Mark Manson wrote a book in the exact same style, but it was about taking cold showers and eating right.
“The Subtle Art Of Taking A Cold Fucking Shower.”
Would that be a classic?
Think about it.
You know the answer.
No, it wouldn’t be a classic. Maybe you’d enjoy reading it, and hell, maybe I’d enjoy reading it, too, but it wouldn’t be a modern classic because we’ve heard these ideas before.
And therein lies my point. Most of the books you find on the bookshelf in the business section at your local bookstore have ideas in them that are fundamentally new.
These authors were able to secure that book deal because they had a new idea.
I read a book about Bullet Journaling the other day. The author, Ryder Carroll, created the Bullet Journal method on his own. This is quite literally his process that he created without any outside help.
His productivity system is now an idea that’s changed the lives of thousands of people (if not millions). It’s brand. spanking. new.
If he wrote a book in the exact same style that was about traditional list-making, then it wouldn’t be a best-seller.
It wouldn’t even be in Barnes and Noble.
That’s the power of a new idea. Yes, writing voice will take you far, but your ideas will take you even farther, which to me, proves they’re far more valuable and important when sitting down to write your next article.