Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why Writing Sometimes Feels Like American Idol

Have you ever noticed that there are distinct categories of American Idol contestants?

The talented ones tend to come in either "confident" or "nervous," but they know they're there because they can actually sing. It's in their blood, in their soul. They sing because they have to.

The ones with no talent come in three forms:

"Clueless"--They have been told by friends and family that they can sing, and while they may not be horrible, they are nowhere near ready for American Idol. Maybe not even their cousin's wedding.

"Fifteen-minutes-of-famers"--These folks come dressed in ridiculous costumes, or make up goofy songs, or both, just trying to get their face on national television. They know they're not star material, but they're having fun. Some of us find it entertaining, and some of us find it a huge waste of time. Either way, at least they're not deluding themselves.

"Cocky Cat-screechers"--The ones who come to the audition bragging to everyone within earshot that they are the best, the brightest, the most talented singers ever. These are the ones the judges rip to shreds the second they open their mouths--the ones Simon Cowell tends to compare to screeching cats.

Writers can be broken into similar categories.

There are truly talented writers. Some are quite sure of themselves, but they either don't have big egos or they know that if they expect to make it in the writing world they have to keep their egos in check. Others don't even realize just how talented they are, but they know writing is what they must do to survive.

The other categories are a litte fuzzier with writers.

I've met a few "clueless" writers--no matter how hard they try they just can't improve their craft. Maybe friends and family read their work and tell them "great job" all the time, but when it comes to the real world of getting published they are minnows in a shark pool.

There aren't too many "fifteen-minutes-of-famers" because you can't show up in costume and grab everyone's attention. But there are writers who just want the recognition without hard work. They're all about getting their name out there, but put in little time actually honing their skills or listening to critique.

And I've definitely met some "cocky cat-screechers"--writers who brag about being the next great American author, but their writing makes a true writer cringe. They're sort of like a combo of "clueless" and "famer" on steroids.

Here's the catch...

It's "easy" to see who's who from the living room couch. And even though the judges often disagree--or they love one singer this week but hate him the next--the real talent has a way of making it through.

But when you're the contestant (writer) auditioning (submitting queries and manuscripts), you often waver over which category you belong in. You ask yourself one minute, "Am I deluding myself?" and then receive a glowing acceptance letter from a magazine you've been dying to get into. The next day, you finish a story that you are so proud of, but after months of trying you can't find a home for it, and off to the trunk it goes. The questions just seem to hang over your head--"Why haven't I made it yet? Is it me?"

And writers RARELY go from audition (query an agent) to Hollywood week (full manuscript first shot) to voting (pitching to publishers) to recording (publishing) contract over the course of just a few fast-paced months. For most of us it takes audition after audition, loads of rejections, pitching till we're ready to throw the manuscript out the window, all while we're working on other projects for which we intend to put ourselves through the same torture.

Is it too late to take up singing?


KM Wilsher said...

This is the key: "It's in their blood, in their soul. They sing because they have to."

That is how I feel and if I never publish one paid word I will remain happy pounding on this keyboard.

The nice thing is, God has given me the life of a writer, even if I am not one. I write, go to conferences and writing groups, interect with crit groups and other writers. Inspire young writers. So I am not rich and famous. I write because it is in my blood, because I have to, because I love to. It is my passion, it gives me joy.

If you take up singing, I think you'd be back writing asap. I think writing is in your blood and you are one heck of a writer - published all over the place - enjoyed by many - inspiring so many more.

American Idol is great to watch just for the reasons you described. Our jaw drops when the talentless rise, we pull and vote for the humble and likeable, the cocky "Here I am, you've been waiting for me" shock us in horror.

This was a great post, Kat!!!

Kat Heckenbach said...

KM, you've definitely got writing in your blood. AND you've got the talent to go along with it :). Keep pounding. I would be sad if you stopped!

And trust me, my voice is so bad--if I took up singing, the world would BEG me to go back to writing. Hmmm....maybe THAT is how I can get a publishing contract..."We'll publish you if you just promise to shut up!" Hee, hee :).