Friday, February 29, 2008

Things Writers can learn from Watching American Idol

I wrote this post for my collaborative writer's blog, and wanted to share it here, as well. Maybe you can think of a few more to add.

Things Writers can learn from Watching American Idol

Because it’s Free-for-all Friday (or FUN Friday, I like to call it), and because American Idol is back in action, I’m thinking now is the perfect time for this post.

American Idol is all about following your dreams. And we writers know a little something about following dreams, right? The only difference is American Idol contestants use their voices in the physical sense. And writers use the voices in our heads. And where AI contestants are going for the record deal, we are going for that book contract.

Pretty much the same dif.

So as I watched American Idol this week, I thought of a few things that we writers can learn from watching the show.

  1. Some people think they’re good at something but they really suck. And I mean that in the nicest way. Singers, writers…there’re bound to be a delusional few in the bunch. American idol proves it in the horrible auditions where people are honestly surprised when they don’t get put through to Hollywood. And the rest of us sit home laughing hysterically at the television set.

I have known a couple of writers who I highly doubt are meant to write, except maybe in their journals. These people will probably never get paid to write but they are convinced that writing is what they’re born to do. I’m all for using your God-given talent. I believe in pursuing your dreams. But somebody needs to start teaching us how to realize how to quit when we’re ahead. A lot of disappointment could be prevented. Of course, that would also ruin good TV. Fox wouldn’t like that very much.

  1. There will always be someone to pat you on the back. Paula is very good at this. Even if the singing is atrocious, Paula can usually find something good to say. That’s just Paula. She’s too kind to be cruel. And that’s why contestants love her. Even if she does leave them scratching their heads.

Most beginning writers gravitate toward critique partners who insert all kinds of smileys and “love it!” comments in the margins. And, don’t get me wrong, we all need encouragement and attaboys now and then. But more seasoned writers know that it’s the harsher critiques that produce growth. Which brings me to…

  1. There will always be someone who says your work is dreadful-simply dreadful. Simon tells it like it is. Which doesn’t necessarily mean he’s right. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. But his words usually sting, nonetheless. So maybe his mother never taught him to soften the blow by saying something positive first. But, you have to admit, the contestants seem more interested in what Simon has to say than any other judge. Even though it hurts.

What writer hasn’t had someone slam their work? Who hasn’t gotten defensive over a harsh critique? I know I have! It’s not fun. But it’s part of life. And as soon as the pain from the sting lessens, we’re able to take a step back and consider whether the comment or critique has merit. If it truly does, that harsh comment, more than any other, will make us better writers.

NOTE: Making snotty comments to the harsh judge or the critiquer does not sit well with anyone. This only makes you seem difficult, unteachable and unprofessional.

  1. Dope isn't always a bad word. When someone (Randy) says “that was dope,” it means it was really good. But if a critique partner says, “that was a pretty dopey thing to write,” it probably means it was really bad.

Learning to differentiate may take some time.

  1. It’s all about song choice. You hear the judges on AI say it again and again. “Bad choice of song.” “Great song choice.” “Dude, that wasn’t the best choice for you tonight.” In the same way, we writers sometimes choose a genre completely out of our element. If we’re good at chick lit, for instance, trying our hand at historical might not be a good move. Not that it’s always wrong to step outside of our comfort zone and try something different but we need to know ourselves and our styles well enough to know what works and what should be left well enough alone.
  1. If you’re truly talented and work hard, your dream really can come true! It’s the ones who see criticism as a challenge, work hard to hone their craft, and have real talent who make it big. Many who got voted off of American Idol went on to sign music contracts and are successful today.

It’s true, the competition is fierce. For both singers and writers. But the one thing you hear publishes authors say again and again is that they never gave up. They kept pressing on, learning and growing. It sometimes takes a long time (many years, in fact) but it can happen.

God created us with a purpose, a passion and a promise. The first two are ours to discover. The promise is that if we’re operating within our God-given purpose and passion, He’ll do the rest. Sometimes (okay, often) not exactly how we expect Him to. And that’s where faith comes in.

Like the success stories of small-town people who made it big on American Idol, I am inspired when I hear about writers’ journeys to publication. I’d love to hear the story of how you went from unknown to published author. And someday, God willing, I’ll be the one leaving my story.

Hey, I’m hanging onto my dream.


Janet Spaeth said...

True, true, true!

If I were on American Idol as a writer (LOL!), I'd cling to what Paula said, worry about what Simon said, and take Randy's advice to heart.

And I'd never ever ever imitate someone else. Finding your own style, your own voice (literally, on AI!), is crucial to developing as an artist.

Fun topic! (And thanks for stopping by my blog!)

LaShaunda said...

Excellent post. What I love about those trying out for AI is they believe in themselves even if they are horrible.

If you don't believe in yourself who will?