Last night, I was watching the auditions for season twelve of American Idol...because I could.
Now, personally I am too old to be on American Idol, despite the fact that I have a singing voice that makes angels cry (my god-daughter informs me that they are crying for different reason than the one that I am thinking of). But I still learn lessons about being famous and doing something creative while watching the show.
The five lessons that I saw last night:
Number 1: Dont expect others to determine the way that you develop.
There was one young lady who did not know what genre of music she wanted to specialize in. She told the judges that she expected to be guided into whatever her future focus was going to be. Needless to say, the judges were not impressed by that answer.
And the scary part is that I have heard "writers" say this type of nonsense. "I really want to be a writer." What do you write? "I haven't decided yet. I figure that a publisher would be best at helping me determine what I should write."
That statement is just one step removed from "I will focus on whatever is currently hot in the marketplace."
Unfortunately, if you embrace such nonsense, you will never actually develop enourgh skill to get an publisher interested in your work. It is not in publishers' best interests to risk attention on people who have not been interested enough in writing to pick a speciality.
Number 2: Singing on the subway is not a fall from grace.
There was one young man who has been picking up extra money by singing on the New York City subways. Good for him, I say. But his friends consider this to be an indication of him falling and failing. It is not. Thinking that one can only perform their craft in ideal conditions ensures that one will never find those ideal conditions.
At least, the singer is practicing his craft.
I have also encountered people who think that a talented writer should not write erotica, science fiction, and fantasy. College writing programs tend to enforce this idea; in college, the only proper type of writing is the type of work that one finds in literary magazines--you know the type of stuff that no commerical magazine will pay you for.
Sure, writing stuff that sells is less noble than writing the Great American Novel...but it might prevent you from having to flip burgers for a living; plus, you actually get to practice your art without having to make it worthy of Shakespeare.
And by the way, Shakespeare was a hack--he wrote plays for money.
Number 3: Get input from outside your inner circle.
There was one young lady last night who had never sang in front of anyone other than her parents. And yes, her mother thought that she was a great singer...she was not.
This is something that I have seen every season of American Idol: singers who have only gotten feedback from friends and family. Of course, your inner circle is going to tell you that you are the next American Idol. They love you, and may have to live with you.
Real feedback comes from outside your own personal fan club. And it is better to get it early before you make a damn fool of yourself.
And we all know the person who is a "great writer" according to their mother.
Number 4: Know that you will have more chances to succeed.
One of the things that the judges last night talked about is the fact that so many people think that they only have one chance to be successful. All the judges noted that they had numerous doors slammmed in their faces, and that one continues to get new chances as long as one continues to try.
I sometimes run into writers who seem to believe that they will only get one chance at fame. If they do not get the right publishing contract, or the right agent, or what-not, they feel that they will never succeed.
I have spent over twenty years getting to where I am as a writer. I could wallpaper a room with rejection slips. If I gave up when I recieved my first rejection, I would not be writing today.
Number 5: Personality matters.
In writing, we refer to this as "voice."
Last night, the judges let though one young man, who had a voice that was not as good as other singers, because he actually had a personality. When you start looking at stars, more often than not, they have personalities.
And there is always someone more talented than you are.
Perfect paragraphs and sentences help sell your writing; but without the voice, you might have well be writing technical manuals for a living. And one would be surprised at the number of less than perfect drafts that writers hack out during the course of their careers--it is why we employ editors.