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?