August 2, 2014

Story ideas are worthless

You know that great story idea you have in your head? The one that you think is so awesome and so original that it's sure to be a bestseller? Do you know how much it's worth? Absolutely nothing... if it remains just an idea.

For those who don't know, I'm not a full-time writer. I have a day job as an engineer in the Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley. I've worked at my share of tech startups and have even once started my own company (which was obviously a failure or I'd be writing full-time from some tropical island). One thing that a lot of wanna-be startup founders misunderstand is that their world-changing ideas don't mean anything. They worry about telling people their ideas for fear they will get stolen, and they insist on anyone they share it with signing NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) before revealing their big ideas. Well, what I've learned is that the best startup idea in the world doesn't translate into a successful company without proper execution. Look at Google and Facebook. They didn't come up with the idea of search or social networking, respectively. They just did a really good job executing on the idea, better than their competitors.

Now back to writing. If you're an author, I'm sure you've had the experience where you talk to someone and they say, "I have a great idea for a book!" Or you may be an aspiring author yourself who thinks you have an idea for the Next Big Thing. But in most cases, I bet the person with the idea won't have taken the next step of turning that idea into a book. So what's their brilliant idea worth? Hmm, let's just say that the idea and a dollar will buy me a cup of coffee at McDonald's.

I have a notebook full of story ideas. I think some are brilliant, but they're just notes in a binder that don't do me any good right now. It's not until I turn one of them into a story and then publish it that the idea has value, both to me and to you as a reader. And sometimes, I'll execute poorly on it and choose not to publish it. That can happen to good ideas with flawed execution, like a startup that delivers a poor product or runs out of money before they hit their goals.

So if you have a great story idea, don't just let it sit. Write it. Do the best job you can to bring it to life. Then publish it for the world to read because if the idea remains in your head or in a notebook, it's worthless.

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