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May 20, 2010 / Melissa Yuan-Innes

What “American Idol” Can Teach You About Writing

I never watched American Idol and very little Canadian Idol because the overwrought high notes and copious commercials turned me off.  But last night, my brain was full after the very good National Capital Conference on Emergency Medicine http://www.medicine.uottawa.ca/cme/eng/) and I laughed until I cried, watching Idol on Youtube.  I also came away with some lessons for writing.

Practice

If you’re a singer, practice, practice, practice so you know your lyrics (and tune) so that even if you’re “really nervous,” you can carry it off instead of forgetting the lyrics, as in some of these renditions of “Before He Cheats.”

If you’re a writer, write fast and write hard.  Challenge yourself.  Don’t be afraid to throw it out and write more.  Have fun.

Act professional

Don’t do this:

Xenophopia and delusions of grandeur don’t play well.  Don’t beg to start again or do another song or start crying.

Writers, don’t argue with rejections, don’t stalk editors in conference bathrooms, don’t beg them to read the story again and don’t cry (at least in front of them).

Look Professional

In writing, that means you use standard manuscript format, white paper, and a big-enough font.  Editors need their eyes.  I used to use Times 12-point until Kris told me it was too small, so I use New York 12 or Times 14.

If you’re a performer, your audition, you want to  might want to avoid freaking people out with your look.

For example, the Cowardly Lion stood out, but you know that’s not the look Idol is going for

Don’t give them what you think they want.

Writers get told what’s hot, but by the time a book’s published, the contract was signed about two years ago.  By the time the vampire craze hits, it’s late to hop on the coffin wagon.  Be yourself.

I think a lot of these singers could’ve picked a song they liked and suited them better than trying to channel “Don’tcha” by the Pussycat Dolls.

Persist

In the end, a lot of good singers and good writers don’t make the cut for no really good reason.  They think your nose is crooked or your protagonist shouldn’t drink Lipton’s tomato soup.  But if you’ve got the dream, you keep on truckin’.

Believe me, I know it’s not easy.  I’m right in the trenches with you.

Remember what Gandhi said:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

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