The airwaves are full of reality shows that focus on talent, American Idol, Next Top Model, Americas Got Talent to name a few. The one that best exemplified the journey of a writer is The Voice. Four coaches, all well-known successful singers in their various genres, sit in chairs facing the audience. Hopefuls sing to the chair backs pouring their heart into their 90 seconds of music, sight unseen—no prejudging of appearance. During that time, based on what the coaches hear, they may push the button that turns their chair around signaling that coach is interested in having that individual on their team. If more than one coach turns their chair around, the contestant gets to choose which team he wants to be on. These teams compete musically with each other until there is only one Voice left.
The Voice parallels the experience of writers who enter contests. We put our best words on paper, polishing them to attract the judges. We agonize and get nervous before we submit our piece, hoping it grabs the attention of the sometimes fickle judges. The bottom-line, the final choice for a winner may have no rhyme or reason. Watching The Voice, I may hear someone I love and not one judge turns around. While another singer that just doesn’t move me grabs all the judges’ attention.
The things these competitors have in common with writers are their preparation. All of these singers have been asked to compete by special invitation because they have worked at their craft. While they work their day job, they sing wherever they can at night. They may take lessons or be backup singers for other artists. Each has sacrificed much in their lives for the privilege of following their dream of a successful career.
Serious Writers Prepare
Serious writers write every day. They take classes, attend webinars, and join critique groups. Following the instruction and encouragement of successful writers, agents and editors improves their chances of standing out.
The Voice is looking for a unique artist that will stand out in the music business. When we write, that same stand out quality must permeate the page. We need a unique style, a unique plot line, quirky characters, creative phrasing that will put us on top in the contests.
Contestants Take Risks
I admire the contestants for taking the risk, putting themselves out there hoping someone will turn their chair around. When no one does, they graciously thank the coaches for their time and leave the stage with grace and dignity. I’ve been in meetings at conferences with agents or publishers that just were not interested in what I was pitching. The conference experience was worth the time despite the rejection.
Writers are faceless
Contests are always a challenge but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Like the contestants on The Voice, we writers are faceless. We are judged not on our outward appearance or experience but the words we have carefully crafted that speak to them from the pages we have submitted. Unlike the TV contest, we may not get to hear the comments as the judges debate the value of our work. If we are not the winners, we will more often than not get no feedback at all.
Getting Readers to sit in the chair
Unlike these contenders for stardom, our carefully crafted words rarely go viral on YouTube. Sometimes as we network with other writers, we may acquire a mentor who comes along side holding us accountable to finish our work, pointing out our weak sentences and lack of strong moving theme like the coaches on The Voice taking the prodigies to stardom. Unlike these musical artists, we work alone. We don’t form bands or ensembles to blend our unique abilities. We draw from others feedback and coaching, but the work is all ours. The sweat, the tears, the time spent at the keyboard is all ours. The ultimate success is based on how many people we can get to sit down in a chair and read our words.
How do you feel about writing contests? What kind of experiences have you had?