Do you watch American Idol? It's a televised singing competition. It can be boring at times, annoying at times and I always record it so I can fast forward through the endless "breaks" and commercial messages. Still I watch it every year because I love music and every now and then something magical happens on the stage that takes your breath away.
I was thinking about how this show mirrors a writer's life. Millions show up to audition-each with a dream to become a pop star. Tens of thousands are whittled down to the thousand or so we actually get to see in the judges chambers. Some can't sing at all. They are let through for "entertainment" purposes. Still they believe they can sing and their conviction is so strong they try over and over. But these people don't listen to the critique. They don't watch their audition video with a judicuos eye. They don't seek lessons and vocal coaches. They think all they have to do it open their mouths. These people will never make it.
Then there are the thousands who can sing. They have lovely voices. They clearly have spent years perfecting their craft. BUT- they all sound the same. They sound exactly like the current pop star. They are such good mimics that some even do precise imitations, 99 percent of these people are sent home. Yes, they can sing. Yes, they can learn, but they don't stand out among the thousand or so sound-a-likes.
You also have the singer songwriters-gifted individuals who are cool and quirky but don't play the game of pop star. They aren't any good at singing pop songs. They are indies and American Idol is not their venue. You have to be able to appeal to middle America.
Finally there are those who are different enough, talented enough and able to play the game who make it to the top 24. But only one gets through to the top slot. Only one person will have the recording contract and all the money and PR that goes behind it. So what do they tell their top 24? "Show us who you are as an artist." Be consistent. No matter what pop category we ask you to sing, make it your own.
This is also sound advice for writers. Millions want to write a book some day. Thousands sit down and actually write one. Of those half will have the ability to be objective, to learn, to grow and keep going through determination. Of these a thousand can pop out the current market trend and make a career off of mimicking a publisher's brand. While others will be indie writers working their whole lives for small presses reaching their small market. (There is nothing wrong or "less" about either of these.) Finally a few will stand out enough to make it into the big publisher's doors where they will be asked, "Show us who you are as an artist." And that artistic persona will not be able to be a writer they already have-(i.e., I write just like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Guess what, those slots are taken by Nora and Stephen.)-or so different that marketing won't buy them. (I have a civil war/roller derby book.) That persona will have to hit just the right note to get the publisher behind them and to make it to the top of the bestseller lists. Now, take a look at your writing and try to figure out where you are in the process. Then finally ask yourself, "What kind of artist am I?"