Thursday, February 09, 2006

American Idols and Writers

I love American Idol and I love Simon Cowell. But, I do not like it when he tears a person down about their singing. Still, as some of the aspiring singers auditioned, I found myself laughing and asking myself: “What is she thinking? He can’t be serious. She can’t sing. Are they deaf? Does he really believe he has talent? What was that?”

Some of them were so totally off key and -- with no melody whatsoever! How can they believe that they can sing?

Then it dawned on me. Many writers might be the same way.

Last month I read Jenna Glatzer’s “How to Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer” and then, right there on page four, there it was – a sort of disclaimer. A list of “I’m assuming that...”

Among the things listed: understanding command of language, discipline and desire to motivate self, willing to do research, ability to not being crushed by rejections…

“And finally, I will assume that you’re actually a good writer” -- Glatzer wrote.

I was excited. I was answering as I read: “Yes, yes, yes, yes...”

Back to American Idol – isn’t that how they all are? Many of them won’t believe the judges when they are told that they have no talent. They believe they can sing. And I have to laugh all over again. And this time, at myself.

Am I one of those contestants?

Being novice about breaking into the magazine market, I practically swallowed this book. I underlined, high-lighted and placed colored post-its all over it. I kept a writing pad with me and I would jot down questions, situations, things to look up, and things to come back to… until my daughter asked if I was taking a class or studying for a test. I had to smile – yes, I was. It was such a great feeling. I literally spent about six straight hours on it.

And I did my homework.

I subscribe to a lot of magazines – like 10 a month. My girl friend does too. Some are the same ones but some we trade every month, and I read about 15 magazines a month. I started studying them, just like Jenna instructed me.

Then, after a week of devouring the book, I felt confident that a particular story idea was perfect for Readers Digest. I wrote the article proposal and forced myself to set it aside. I was feeling so confident, I polished up a filler I had been keeping around, and I mailed it in for fun. It was only 100 words and I would get $300. Wow. Then, I could say I got $3/word. LOL

I returned to my article proposal the next day, saw some little (but obvious) things to improve it, and I polished it up. I must have gone over it at least 20x.

Then I kissed it and sent it on its way.

I got busy with more research and writing and I forgot all about it –for about a week.

After three weeks, even though I tried not to think about it, I couldn’t help but get excited every time I opened up my email.

Then I started wondering if they would respond by email or (American-Idol thinking) –since my article was so wonderful – maybe they’ll just call me and talk to me. Or, will I get a “real” letter from them, complete with a contract.

Honestly, I wasn’t thinking the latter. It entered my mind and I smiled. I’m not totally clueless to how this works. More often than not, nothing will arrive. But, not in my case – I was so confident about the proposal, I knew I just had to continue the waiting game. Though, I did get concerned last week when I heard about a tragedy – but I won’t go into that today.

In the meantime, I asked a question on one of the AbsoluteWrite threads.

One person responded with:

“Not to burst any bubbles, but it's best to entertain a healthy pessimism regarding any specific submission. As a percentage, very little gets published compared to what gets submitted, and it's probably best to find yourself surprised on the upside later if they get back to you.”

Ok – that’s fine. I agree with that. But, then she went on to say:

As to the more general sense, best is to find a few people whose opinions you respect (a good writing group is helpful) and try to get an assessment of whether you're talented enough to pursue it further or whether you're being self-delusional. And remember not to shoot the messenger.”

There it was – a statement from one of the judges. At least it was a kind statement.

But, here I was – an American-Idol-type writer – reacting to the statement.

WHAT??? What do you mean, "am I talented enough to pursue it further?" And what is this about being Self-delusional? Phooey!

(Remember, don’t shoot the messenger)

I didn’t.

One of the things I am known for is that I am always telling everyone: “Don’t ever let go of your dream.” One of my dreams is to be published in magazines. I believe it will happen. And, if it doesn't happen this month, there's always next month.

Until then, I’ll be right here – writing. And watching American Idol.
And, for all of you new writers -- you have to get Jenna Glatzer's Freelance Writing book. You'll be glad you did and when it is your turn to perform before the judges -- you can smile and feel confident that you've been coached by a professional.


  1. I think we all have that American Idol in us... look at William Hung -- he was so bad but people love him. Anyway, I think eventually people could tell if they were good or bad. Great writers write bad stuff, too, but in general, they know they're good and the WHOLE body of work speaks the truth. But get readers -- definitely. Get second opinions!

  2. Pshaw.
    Readers will give you confidence, but if what you need is confidence, you probably want to avoid writers groups and forums. There ought to be a warning above the links to most writer's forums:

    Here there be dragons.

    p.s. Nothing wrong with needing a little confidence. I lined up 10 early readers while I worked on Transit Gloria. I specifically stayed away from family, and the only friends I gave the ms to were professionals (a writer and two editors).

  3. Anonymous10:17 AM

    Oddly enough, I think some writers need the opposite - someone to tell them they can write.

    You're right, of course - I think we're often deluded about our true potential, which ever way it falls.