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Monday, April 21, 2008

EXCELLENCE: This One's For You, Simon

I’m feeling a bit metaphorical today. Not sure if it’s because I’ve been keeping up with my daily word count or because spring has finally arrived. Whatever the case, please hear me out.

The metaphor for today: Writing a novel is like watching your favorite installment of American Idol.

I’m a semi-Idol fan. I know enough to know who’s in the competition and how the drill works. It's down to the last six or seven this year, but everyone knows the top twelve have a shot at launching a long and successful career after surviving the auditions and not being in the first group of twelve out the door. They know their goal, have God-given talent, and have refined their craft to the point they are ready for serious criticism and trying to woo the American public with their shtick.

Serious writers are like that. The desire to be published burns within. We use our talent and ideas to string words together into compelling plots and memorable characters. We work on our craft day and night—studying other writers, attending conferences, and submitting to the critiques of others.

Enter American Idol. Talent. Hours and hours of rehearsal time. Studying with the star-of-the-week. Learning new arrangements, picking the right song, polishing each note and musical phrase. Then choosing the right costume to project the image they want to burn into the hearts of their adoring public.

Performance night: Each contestant gets two to three minutes in the spotlight. Everything is on the line. Time to hear what the judges have to say. Here, I think, we can make some easy comparisons to the writing life and the process of letting others read—and critique—our own stories. Pretend you are an Idol contestant.

Randy is first with his “Yo Dawg—that was pretty cool, man.” Followed usually by telling you that was not your best performance or you were a little pitchy in spots, but you’re getting there. OR he might say that was the best thing we’ve heard all year. Randy would make a good critique partner. He’s honest, but cuts you some slack and gives good advice.

Up next: Paula. She is the mother who loves every word you’ve ever written. And tells you how pretty you look and how much she loves you. We all need people like that—once in a while.

Last, you wait, breath held, fingers crossed. Simon Cowell. And, let’s be honest. It doesn’t matter what anyone of the others say, you are here for one purpose: To hear Simon’s words. “I liked it.” Three words, but they can float you, a young singer, straight into next week. A nod from Simon is tantamount to hearing your dream editor or agent (insert name here) say, “Yes, please send me a proposal.”

It’s that simple. Play along with me for a minute. Week after week, the contestants affirm, “I just hope Simon likes it.” Well, he is the creator of the British version of Idol, and when everything is said and done, his words are the ones we all remember. Think British accent as you listen to some of the more frequent Simon remarks.
“I thought it was a little Cabaret-ish.”
“I actually found it quite boring.”
“I thought it was old-fashioned, just like your outfit.”
“It sounded like something you would hear at a theme park.”
“It was actually quite forgettable.”

There’s a huge lesson for writers here. Simon is nearly always right. He knows talent, he recognizes what makes a performance work, and he’s never, ever afraid to say what’s on his mind.

I don’t know about you, but this analogy shouts to me about my writing.

  • My ideas must be original. Fresh. Not done a thousand times before.
  • I should strive to invent characters people WON’T forget two minutes after they lay down my book.
  • Don’t rely on what worked ten or twenty years ago.
  • Never, never bore your readers.

How can I accomplish all that? Write. Rewrite. Daydream. Study. Write some more. Show it to a Simon (agent/editor name again). Cry. Try again.

You know how sweet it is when one day you hear the words every Idol wannabe longs to hear from Simon.

“That was incredible.”

Happy writing.


Erica Vetsch said...

This post resonated with me because this is the first season of Idol I've ever watched. Excellent analogies you've drawn here, and congratulations on keeping up your word count!

Myra Johnson said...

I'm not an Idol watcher, but I can draw similar analogies from Dancing With the Stars. We love to hear what's right about our performance. Hate to have our weak areas lambasted. Especially when deep inside we realize the critique is right on target.

Whether it's with a contest judge, editor, or agent, the weeding-out process is unavoidable. The best we can do is keep learning, growing, and improving.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Great analogy. sigh... let me crawl back to work - I've got a long ways to go. :)

Deborah said...

I don't watch idol, but I know enough about it to say that you've got a great analogy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for participating in the Carnival of Christian Writers!
Great article!

Michelle Van Loon said...

And sometimes those contestants break down in tears. (Remember Mt. Hermon, my friend?)

Thanks for this encouraging post. It's just what I needed today!