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As much as it pains me to admit it publicly, I am somewhat watching the American Idol auditions. In my defense my husband is the one watching (he apparently likes having his faith in humanity smashed to bits) and since we only have one TV and a really small apartment...

Point being, it strikes me that the auditions that the contestants go through have some parallels I think writers can learn from. And yes, I know I'm hardly the first to draw this comparison.

One thing I've noticed is that the successful contestants have some things in common.

One, they've all been at this a long time. Most all the ones going on said that they've been singing, and getting training in singing, since they were quite young or at least for several years. Even the very young ones have said that singing has been something they've done even before they thought of making it a career.

Two, the really good ones come in with a real sense of humility. Sure, they're confident and they have fun with the judges, but there isn't a sense of entitlement. In fact, many seem surprised to be picked at all. The really horrible auditions come from those who seem to think that yellow slip ought to be handed to them just for showing up and singing really loudly.

Three, the great ones love what they do beyond the contest. You could see that even if they got four straight nos, they would go home and polish their craft and keep singing and keep loving music. The bad ones seem like they only came in because they thought they could get quick, cheap, easy fame and fortune out of it. For instance, the guy who came in and looked like he was a few seconds away from taking a gun to the top of a clock tower because he had to wait for three hours in the waiting room. I laughed and said, "Don't ever become a writer, kid, because waiting for responses will snap you like a twig."

Four, the good ones got honest opinions from people who knew their stuff and listened very intently to the feedback the judges gave. It was nearly universal, when the judges spoke, the good contestants were practically holding their breath so they didn't miss a word. The Anime!Girl, on the other hand, asked how she could get turned down when her family and friends and her voice coach all said she was wonderful. I find myself doubting that her voice coach said that, and if that coach did, they should be fired. And then set on fire for bald-faced lying. Others as well noted, "But my family says I'm good!"

Five, the great singers were all themselves - but the best possible version of themselves. The worst ones seemed to think that rolling out of bed and showing up would suffice. The great ones had found the aspects of their personality, their looks, and themselves that could appeal to the judges. They found a line between being themselves and being accessible, likeable, marketable.

Seems to me that the writers who make it and do really great work are a lot like great contestants, and those beginners who progress onward to a professional career come in with the same humility, polish, and honest talent that the great singers do.

So while I'm wincing over the very bad auditions, I'm also reminding myself not to be those bad contestants. Not to feel entitled to a yes from an agent/editor, not to step up unless I know that I'm putting my best foot forward, and not to forget that while the career aspirations are nice, it's still about the writing.

Because here's the thing - even if I get nowhere, I'm still going to write. I'm still going to tell stories, because I love this. I love books, I love literature, I love fiction, I love writing. I want to make a career of it because I think I've got some wonderful tales. Are those tales ripe at the moment? Maybe not. Maybe I need more work, more polish, more practice - if so, full steam ahead. No one owes me a career or a chance, so it's important that I have something worth giving a chance to.

Which means listening carefully to criticism, always polishing my craft, and continuing to love what I do no matter what.

Because, luckily, writing differs from American Idol in that you don't have to be a perky, pretty blonde 16-year-old girl with an angelic voice. You just have to have a great story, patience, and a cast iron will.

Date: 2010-01-13 03:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mercwriter.livejournal.com
The couple times (in the past) I popped in and out of watching the auditions, yup, I noticed the things you point out, too. :) It's a great analogy, really.

Always keep writing. B-)

Date: 2010-01-13 12:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
Thanks, and I don't foresee writing being the problem. It's selling that writing to someone that seems to be the big obstacle. :)

Date: 2010-01-13 03:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lilacfield.livejournal.com
Feedback from people who have long experience in the business. That's another thing that sticks out to me, other than the parts about hard, constant work, humility and patience.

Date: 2010-01-13 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
Yeah, this. Getting opinions from people who know their stuff is crucial and essential to any professional success in any field.

Which is why I got pissed at those who argued with the judges - because I honestly wanted to say, "Man, I'd kill if every agent I ever submitted to gave me at least THAT much feedback! I'd be taking frickin' notes, not arguing!"

But then again, after seeing how many dunderheads ARGUE with the judges, I see why that doesn't happen.

Date: 2010-01-13 04:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] takumashii.livejournal.com
As an admitted semi-fan of American Idol (once they get passed the depressing auditions with the crying), I agree with this.

The other similarity to me is that there are so many things besides skill and craftsmanship that affect how you'll do. Admittedly, publishers mostly aren't looking for a pretty face, but there's charisma, there's being on trend in terms of style or topic or genre, there's being accessible and nonthreatening, there's fitting in with whatever slot the publisher needs someone to fill at a certain point in time.

(Everyone has been telling me there's a dearth of YA novels with lesbian characters in them. Well, it's true. I didn't write my book trying to cynically capitalize on that. But I'm kind of lucky that it worked out that way.)

But, even given all of that -- there are musicians who are making a living creating wonderful music who don't fit neatly into any little genre box. When someone says, "This is beautiful writing but I don't think I can sell this," it's not personal. It's like Simon Cowell rejecting the quite good folk-singer-songwriter or opera singer who doesn't fit in the pop star template. But, equally, it doesn't mean you have to fit the pop star template (which would be, in this metaphor, being James Patterson or Stephenie Meyer) to have success in your own way.

Date: 2010-01-13 12:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
Well, I think that it's sort of the "know your market" thing. American Idol is not the only place to start a music career. In fact, it's really only viable for a small handful of musicians.

It's sort of like when a genre writer submits to non-genre agents or publications. No matter how good you are, you're gonna get rejected because that's just not the right venue.

My problem with this show is that it gives this illusion that if you win, it's instant fame and wealth and success for the rest of your life, and if you look at previous idol winners (if you can even remember who they are), a lot of them are really fighting to keep continuing their careers. Winning a contest does not guarantee a high flying career for life. You have to work at that really hard.

Just like I keep reminding myself that it's not just breaking into writing and getting that first book published, but what you do AFTER that so you get to have more books published.

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