Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What I Learned About Writing From Watching American Idol

What I Learned About Writing From Watching American Idol by Julie Rowe

Yes, I admit it, I'm an Idol addict. I love watching the show; I love the individual singers, the judges and the annoyingly perky host. But, the other day, I realized I was learning an awful lot about the creative process from watching the show. Skip the singing folks, I was learning things that could actually help me become a better writer.

So, in no particular order, here's my list of lessons learned from watching Idol.

1. You actually have to show up at the audition - Yep, that's right, in order to sell a book you actually have to write one. Most people who say they want to write a book, or say they're writing one, never finish it.

2. While at the audition, you actually have to sing - it's no joke, not only do you have to write an entire book, you actually have to submit it to someone.

3. Have realistic expectations about your talent - we all secretly hope that what we've written will be the next breakout best-seller. You'll get offers of representation from multiple agents who'll have so many publishers clamouring for your book that it will end up selling at an auction, and you'll never have to work again. Um, I hate to break it to you, but THAT isn't realistic. THAT occasionally
does happen, but only to that guy who also got struck by lightening three times and survived. Reality will far more likely result in a rejection letter.

4. After you've sung your song, accept criticism gracefully - Criticism is a part of the publishing process. Be respectful and grateful to anyone who takes the time to evaluate your writing. To do anything else is rude, unprofessional and stupid. Publishing may seem like a large industry, but it's not, it's more like a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Nothing spreads faster than bad news or bad behaviour.

5. If you didn't get a golden ticket, go home, take voice lessons and try again next year - So, your manuscript was rejected. Now's the perfect opportunity to strengthen your skills and learn new ones. Join a critique group, enter contests, take online classes, go to live workshops and go to conferences. Learn, edit, revise and submit. Repeat as often as it takes.

6. The judges love singers who take risks musically, have a definitive style and can make well-known songs their own. - Editors and agents are looking for more than good writing, they're also looking for a compelling Voice.
Every writer has a voice, a combination of style, tone, pace, emotion, theme and technique. Really good writers are really good because you can't put their book down - their Voice compels you to read on. How do you develop your Voice? There are three ways: Write, write and write.

7. Hollywood week has one purpose: To weed out the weak. Most of the singers who go to Hollywood will either quit or get sent home - Publishing is not easy. Only the strong, the passionate, the dedicated, and those writers with the ability to adapt to the ever-changing market will survive to have long, successful careers. Strong writers take nothing for granted and keep an eye on where the market is going while focusing on their deadline next week.

8. Not everyone who gets a golden ticket will end up famous - Most writers don't earn enough money from their writing to support themselves. Don't quit your day job until you actually have enough money in the bank to live for at least one year without earning another dime.

9. All contestants will be required to sing in styles they may not feel particularly strong in and often surprise the heck out of themselves when they do a really good job - Don't become complacent. Try new things once in a while. I'm not talking about following trends, I'm talking about taking a trend in a new and unexpected direction - yours. You might score big.

10. Sometimes the last person you expect gets voted off the show - Art and logic are incompatible. Things don't always go the way we expect or want, but failure is only failure if you give up. If you get knocked off your feet, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get moving again. Chocolate helps.

A Golden Heart double finalist in 2006, Julie Rowe has been writing for ten years and has completed sixteen manuscripts. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous magazines and newsletters.


  1. Fantastic blog, Julie! Now I'm feeling less guilty about my American Idol addiction. Yeah, I'm learning practical life lessons about my writing!

    I am always amazed at people who assume, if you've published a book, you must be making millions and Ophra is going to call next week.

  2. If only it were true!

    Thanks for stopping by, Lynne!

    Cheers, Julie

  3. I loved this, Julie! I'm an American Idol fan in a big way too.

    This has been a great season, with Dolly Parton and Neil Diamond.

    Tonight's the night!

  4. another idol fan checking in...
    Great blog and excellent points that both writers and idol contestants do need to take to heart.