Writing Books is a Lot Like Competing in American Idol

I was watching American Idol the other night and it struck me how much alike the music and book industry is.

This particular episode had Tommy Hilfiger guesting. His job was to assist the Idol contestants in finding some style.  My favorite contestant, Phil Phillips, showed the designer the gray t-shirt he was planning on wearing and was met with well meaning advice regarding the drabness of that color on stage. All the contestants were given advice that, to me, didn’t seem quite right.
The next stop for the Idols was to get critiqued by musicians who have gone before them. One singer was told she was coming on too strong. She needed to sing softer. This turned out to be awful advice when it came time to perform. She shined only when she let loose and wailed the chorus. Her appeal had always been, to me, her passion. 
My favorite, Phillips, was advised to get rid of his guitar as he was, in their opinion, using it to hide behind, and start moving his hips around and grooving. I cringed. What makes this guy so much fun to watch is that he’s unassuming. He isn’t up on stage girating like a boy band. He’s playing his guitar in his t-shirt and jeans, and putting his amazing music on stage, rather than his pelvis. His facial expressions, more than his dance moves or clothes, are his brand. 
Thankfully, Phillips and many of the other singers filtered the advice they were given and ended up not completely screwing up their big shot.
As writers, we join critique groups, hire professional editors, and enter contests where we receive sometimes excellent, sometimes detrimental feedback. What makes us unique is often white-washed out for fear of breaking imaginary rules of writing, or offending one group or another.

We must have, like the fortunate Idols, the ability to weed out what fits, and forgo what doesn’t. The person giving the advice is a person, like us, with opinions that are subjective, and bent to their taste. It’s so important to be able to filter out the helpful. I hope and pray that for myself I am filtering out the not quite right advice and holding too the good. It’s not always easy to know what’s what though. This is why there’s power in multiple counselors. Any one of us is more than able to give bad advice. When one says it, maybe. When two say it, probably. When three say it, its almost definitely time to take heed.

But critique wasn’t the only comparison I made watching American Idol that night. What also struck me is as a published writer, I’m on stage too. There are people cheering, and there are people booing. I’m the favorite of some, the least of others. As I look out into the audience, what I see are thousands, if not millions of other hopefuls who would kill to have the shot that I have. Many of them are as good, if not better than me. If I don’t take my shot seriously, they’ll be more than happy to step up and take my microphone. 
Just as the singers are only as good as their last song, we writers are only as good as our last story. If we throw out a song that no one likes, or sing it  poorly, we’re going to get voted off. In our world, that means no more book contracts. This is serious business folks. There’s no room for lazy writing. We get one chance to belt it out. If we’ve been honing our craft, practicing, learning, growing and giving it all we have, writing with all the emotion the story calls for, we may get to write again next week. 

I’ve got a lot more stories in me. I’m not ready to go home.

Gina Holmes is the founder of Inspire a Fire and Novel Rocket. Her debut, Crossing Oceans, was a Christy and Gold Medallion finalist and winner of the Carol Award, INSPY, and RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice, as well as being a CBA, ECPA, Amazon and PW Religion bestseller. Her sophomore novel,  Dry as Rain, released in 2011. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her family in southern Virginia. She works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their past and discover their God-given purpose. To learn more about her, visit www.ginaholmes.com.