Lessons from Reality TV
Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
I’m often struck by the similarities between the competition reality shows on TV these days, and life in the publishing environment. The programs bring together hopefuls in an endeavor—baking, fashion, business, movie makeup, singing—and pit them against each other. Along the way, the competitors make friends, make enemies, learn more about their chosen endeavor, and learn about themselves.
The shows are not only fun, they’re full of insights. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking lately as I watch the new season of American Idol.
1. Some people are more talented than they know. Others are less talented than they think they are.
Some contestants come in with beautiful voices that are unpolished; some have hopeless voices but they’re trying really hard. Some have so much enthusiasm you can’t help but like them, and some are so dull that they could have the most accomplished voice in the world but no one would want to hear it. Some have a sense of entitlement (How could you NOT pick ME?) and others are beautifully humble, surprised that the judges would give them a smile and a kind word. In singing, as in writing, it’s difficult to know how good you are without outside, objective input. And the first time you receive it can be a shock—in either a positive or negative way.
2. The judges know more than you realize.
It’s surprising how much the judges can tell from such a small amount of information. You think—how could they possibly make a decision so quickly? They stop the singer after 16 bars; they take one small taste of the cake; barely a glance at the elaborate costume design—and pronounce their verdict. It’s just like when an experienced agent or editor forms an opinion about a written piece from the first page. You wonder how they can possibly have enough information to reach a conclusion, and it can feel a little harsh. But those who have spent years working in a field—learning, studying, honing their instincts—can quickly form an opinion that wouldn’t change even with much more information.
3. Raw talent is wonderful, but has no value until it is worked and nurtured and developed.
It becomes obvious very quickly on some of the shows, but can be more difficult to grasp when you’re a writer. After all, everyone who is literate can write. If you have the desire to write stories or articles or non-fiction books, it feels like you can just sit down at your computer and voila, your masterpiece! But like every single endeavor out there, it takes a lot of work to get to a point where you’re producing excellent work that’s worthy of people’s attention, time and money.
4. Everyone gets a shot — but not everyone will win.
Some Idol contestants get the “golden ticket” and a golden moment. Maybe my dreams will come true after all. Others receive a devastating dose of reality, when the hard truth hits their soft heart and they’re crushed. They’re receiving feedback whether it’s good or bad, whether it lives up to their loftiest hopes or dashes them to the ground. Does this sound familiar at all?
5. The competition is fierce.
One of my favorite moments on Idol a few years ago was when a contestant looked around and commented, “The talent here is ridiculous.” It’s true, and better to acknowledge it. Often our biggest worry isn’t our own performance but how it stacks up against our competitors. You have no control over them, you can only be the best YOU possible. So take it seriously, because your competition certainly is. Pay attention to the details of mastering your craft. Present yourself as a professional. There are a lot of talented writers out there, and you may be one of them. But brace yourself for the competition aspect of this business—because it’s never going to be all about you.
6. Just because you don’t win in this venue, at this time, doesn’t mean you won’t find success.
There are some fabulous singers that get cut from American Idol because, for whatever reason, they don’t fit the image of a pop star that these record labels feel they can sell. That’s fine—many of them will go on to fulfill their dreams in a venue more suited to their personality and talent. It’s the same with writers looking for agents and publishers. A “no” isn’t a global rejection, it just means, “Not here, not now.” You have to keep searching for your fit.
7. People’s dreams mean everything to them.
Whether it’s writing or baking or designing movie costumes or performing, all of us hold our dreams closely. A bit of encouragement feels like heaven; criticism or rejection can be devastating. Big dreams are one of the things that make life exciting and worthwhile. If you sometimes feel like your dream is so incredibly big and important that you can’t stand the thought of it not coming true, take heart: you are not alone.
What are some ways you’ve found the writer’s life to be like TV competition shows? What have you learned from watching them?
7 ways the writer’s life is like American Idol. Click to Tweet.
“Your competition is fierce”—and other ways the writing life is like a reality show. Click to Tweet.
“Everyone gets a shot, but not everyone will win.” American Idol as metaphor to writing life. Click to Tweet.