Granted, we have no idea how well the current singers on the roster of American Idol write. They could be good, they could be bad — no one really knows for sure. They definitely can sing, though. And they definitely stand out enough in their craft that they managed to make it out of the thousands that auditioned. Maybe, we can all learn something from that and use those lessons to improve our writing.
Anyone Can Sing In Tune
Seriously. I can sing in tune. You can, too. We had a rich aunt who liked singing karaoke with us, but she couldn’t sing a lick. Because she had money, she hired a singing coach. Fast forward half a year and she was singing better than half the room every time we hit a karaoke joint.
The same holds true for writing. Anyone can write decent enough that people can read and understand your message. But it’s not going to be easy for everyone. Some of us will need to work harder than others and put in a little more time. It’s the way of the world.
A lot of the singers I hear on American Idol don’t have outstanding tone, pitch or range. But many of them manage to make it past auditions into the next round simply because they can carry a tune. Similarly, you don’t need to be Kurt Vonnegut or Paolo Coelho to find writing opportunities. You just need to work on wrapping your head around the basics and apply them to be a decent writer.
Talent Is Not Enough
Every year, we see great talent show up during the audition rounds only to be eliminated during Hollywood Week. In some cases, those who get cut tend to have more natural singing talent than those who do get through. Why is that? Because talent is never enough.
This year, there was a blonde country girl (American Idol fans love country music) with a great tone, gorgeous face and excellent poise. She had experience, too, having worked with labels in Nashville and even singing backup on a TV show. Plus, she’s a Christian girl, born and raised in a Texas farm. For all intents and purposes, she was as commercial for this medium as you can ask for. But during the live shows, she sang out of tune. And got booted off the next day.
Even if you were born with a natural talent for writing, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a terrific writer by the age of 20. Even at 25 or 30. All it means is that you have a natural gift — how you nurture and hone that will define the kind of success you will encounter in life. More importantly, you need to step up at the right times. Opportunities are aplenty, but you have to grab them hard if you’ll ever make the most of them.
Practice Makes Better
I wanted to write “practice makes perfect,” but perfect is a terrible thing to aim for. Nobody will ever get anything “perfect.” Practice your craft and you’ll improve, whether it’s at singing or setting words down on paper. Ask any of the people who make it to the final stages of Idol, for instance, and you’ll quickly realize these people have been practicing for this moment all their lives. So strap down and get to work — there’s practice to do.
Do It For Your Audience
American Idol contestants know the importance of their fanbases. The better they can identify the people supporting them (I mean, people have to lift a finger to dial that number), the better they can tailor their performances to appeal to that crowd. Any singer who choose songs and performances based on what they want, rather than what their fanbase will find entertaining, will quickly discover it isn’t the way to get the votes.
Same goes for your writing. If you want to have the best effect your writing can manage, you need to write for your audience. Self-indulgence is fun every now and then, but you can only do it so much. Most of the time, you’ll be writing to reach people and communicate a message — the best way to do that effectively is to know your audience and understand what appeals to them.
The more forgettable a performance on American Idol is, the lesser the chances that person will proceed to the next round. That’s why people make a point of trying to stand out. It’s why song choice, fashion outfits and stage presence matters. Unfortunately, it’s also why some of them go overboard, ending up looking like they’re buffoons trying too hard.
It’s the same way for good writing. You need to find a way to make your text more than just words on a page. What about it will people remember? How do you make sure you’re not quickly forgotten after they pick up a new magazine and read a different article on it? You must find ways to make your work more memorable, all while resisting the trap of turning it into a circus.
Find Your Own Voice
When singers first start out, they do so trying to sound like someone else. Whether it’s Whitney, Dylan, Mariah or Weird Al, they tend borrow individual pieces of style from those that came before them. Some singers can go through life being this way. Chances are, they’re not the ones who end up being successful on Idol, as the ones who stand out almost always end up finding a unique voice that fans can rally behind.
The experience is eerily similar for writers. When you first write, it’s not unusual to borrow the style from those writers you frequently indulge in. As a matter of fact, it’s a recommended way of working. You can go through the rest of your life writing like someone else. Many newspaper reporters do that, so do bloggers and feature writers.
For those who want to make their marks as great writers, however, finding your unique voice is essential. It’s how people will identify you. It’s how you’ll set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. It’s how your fans will fall in love with your work and the unique quality it brings into their lives.