where the writers are
What Writers Can Learn From American Idol
American Idol.jpg

In case you haven’t heard, American Idol is a popular reality program on TV. While watching recently, I realized there are some comparisons with the show and writing. Here’s what writers can learn from watching American Idol:

1. Many of the people who want to be singers have absolutely no talent. Watch the audition episodes if you don’t believe me. While those contestants deserve kudos for having the courage to give it a shot, they are clearly not ready for the big leagues. They thankfully get weeded out rather quickly. It’s the same with writers. Many people who claim they want to be writers lack patience, which appears as a lack of talent. I’m not saying that to be mean. You know people who boasted they whipped out their novel over their two-week vacation. Everyone thinks they can write a novel and there are those who send out their work before its ready. The publishing system weeds out most of them.

2. If you believe the contestants in their backstage interviews, successful singers sing to improve their craft. They didn’t just drop out of a turnip truck. They practiced the art of singing. Hmmm… surely you’ve heard the phrase, writers write. Writing is how writers practice their craft.

3. Idol contestants, through the course of the episodes, also take risks, they challenge themselves with their song choices, and they listen to the experts brought in to offer tips. Writers should take risks, too. Write outside your comfort zone once in awhile and see what happens. It never hurts to bring in experts of your own, either by going to a conference or workshop or reading an article or a writing book. Then put what you learn into practice. See item #2.

4. It’s obvious that singers need more than talent. Just as with writers, they need that something extra to make them stand out. I think it is creativity, a unique voice, and self-knowledge that give both singers and writers that spark.

5. Cream rises to the top. It really does. Just as you watch one contestant after another sing and you think they’re pretty good, one comes along who knocks your socks off and you’re surprised and you’re thrilled. Suddenly the other singers don’t seem all that good anymore. Readers want to be surprised and thrilled, too. It’s not enough to write a good book. You have to knock their socks off.

6. When judges say you have no artistic ability or you should quit, you need to shake it off and persevere. Three of the most popular American Idol contestants did not win on the show! Jennifer Hudson went on to win an Oscar for her singing and acting in Dreamgirls. Chris Daughtry came in fourth but has the third highest record sales of any Idol contestant. Clay Aiken has starred on Broadway and enjoyed multiplatinum success with his debut album. What if these contestants had given up after the judges sent them packing? And get this, Hillary Scott, now a lead singer for Lady Antebellum, tried out for American Idol, twice, but didn't make it past the preliminary rounds to even be on the show!  What if she had quit before she even got started?  As you may know, Lady Antebellum has numerous hits, platinum singles, and kicked butt with 5 Grammy Awards at the 53rd Grammy’s.

What the American Idol contestants can teach us writers is that no matter what happened on the show, they continued to pursue their dream. Just as some of them will never have a hit record, some of us will never get published. But in this day and age we have options. Singers can upload their songs on iTunes or YouTube. We writers can self-publish or e-publish. Let America decide, rather than a few judges or editors.