Quality writing is the application of language in skilled form. Nouns are vivid. Verbs are sharp. Sentences strike with precision. Paragraphs sing with emotion. Quality writing showcases the whole—whether verse, chapter, article, or story—as accomplished for its considered structure and delicate care.
Valuable writing is the utility of language in practical form. Copy compels action. Chapters propel plot. Arguments persuade opinions. Stories kindle understanding and empathy. Valuable writing always advances the work—whether book, magazine, sales letter, script or other—toward its intended goal.
Valuable writing is inherently quality writing. The opposite, however, isn’t true. Quality writing isn’t guaranteed to be valuable writing. Most writers understand the former and confuse the latter because they don’t see the relationship between quality and value for what it is: a parent-child relationship.
Quality is a prerequisite to value, but it’s not the only variable. If quality writing doesn’t serve the causes of the work, then by definition it’s not valuable and should be rewritten or scrapped.
Legendary editor Robert Gottlieb illustrates the difference. . .
“As an editor, your job with a writer [who values all his writing equally] is to be able to say, ‘You may have done an equally brilliant job on all of these things, but this has more weight than that, and you have to give some of that up.’”
Quality writing is an admirable and essential focus. But to focus solely on quality at the ignorant expense of utility (value) does a disservice to your writing career and the readers you serve. And in our new book economy marked by inconsequential barriers to entry, success awaits those that concentrate on value, not simply quality for quality-sake.