Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Which Idol Are You?

This is me, being mature: after realizing that my story would not be included in 100 Stories for Queensland, I punched out Suck, Suck, Suck on my laptop, blew off some steam on Facebook, then laid on the bed and cried for half an hour.
One of the reasons I was so upset was that I am constantly looking for affirmation that I am terrible at what I do and, when I find it, it doesn't matter how many people had nice things to say, it's the rejections I believe.
Yeah, I know. Twisted.
More than that, though, is the fear I'm gonna wind up like one of the worst auditions on American Idol. The ones we all laugh at. The ones where the guy has been told his whole life that he's a great singer. His friends, his family, his overpaid music teacher – "they all told me I could sing! What do YOU guys know," he throws tearfully at Randy Jackson as he stomps out the door.
And I'm watching him, thinking, really? No one told you can't sing your way out of a wet paper bag? No one told you your voice is flatter than all that ironing Tomara Armstrong does? (Heartfelt congratulations, Tomara, on getting your story included in 100 Stories... it was a rocking good tale and well deserved! Congratulations to all my other friends who made the cut! Way to go, guys!)
Every time I see a guy like that, bawling his fool eyes out for being rightfully rejected from the Idol audition process, I ask myself, "how could he possibly not know he sucks?"
Being a writer is a lot like being a contestant on American Idol.
Your friends and family tell you you're the best writer since, I dunno, Stephen King. Or sliced bread. Or even the cat's pajamas. They're your friends and family... of course they're going to say nice things. If they don't, you should consider getting new friends and family.
And then there's your writerly friends, who also say nice things because their egos are almost certainly just as fragile as your own and most are nice folks who say nice things because, well, they're nice. They certainly don't want to be the ones to crush your dreams by saying, "You suck! Stop writing!"
Besides, if they support poor writers, their own good writing will look great in comparison. (!)
The only time you get real, unbiased feedback on your writing is when you send it out, hoping for publication.
Then, finally, your work is being judged on its own merits.
I know, I know... sometimes it's not your work's fault that it was rejected. Maybe it wasn't what the publisher was looking for. Maybe it was too long or too short or too funny or too serious or had too many clowns. Maybe the judge/publisher was PMSing and hated any story being written by people with a name starting in C. Maybe the publisher had published enough good stories that month and was now publishing bad ones and yours was therefore too good to be included.
Your brain can come up with a lot of reasons why your work wasn't chosen.
Usually none of those reasons is because the story wasn't good enough.
That is a very hard reason to accept.
But what if it is true?
What if you're that guy on American Idol who just plain shouldn't be singing? Shouldn't you accept the fact that Simon says you're a talentless bum? Or do you want to embarrass yourself further and audition again next year?

So this is what I pondered today: which Idol contestant am I?

Am I the person who can't sing but thinks I can and am roundly disappointed and cry when Idol judges tell me to keep my day job?

Am I the person who can't sing and knows it, but dresses up in a funny costume and tries out anyhow because, hey, it's national TV?

Or am I the real deal, a genuine talent, who just hasn't caught a break?

I've been pondering. Still haven't made up my mind.
In the meantime, I'm curious: which Idol are you?


  1. That's the big fear, isn't it, Cathy? That we'll write (or sing) our hearts out and others will see us as ridiculous. Maybe I'll never know which idol I am, but at least I'm giving it a shot.

  2. Judging by what you wrote you won't believe it because we are friends but I think you are the last idol..."the real deal, a genuine talent, who just hasn't caught a break." I am a short story lover. I love to be able to pick up a book, read for a short while and have the whole story down. I don't have the time to read night after night. I often loose the books and when I find them I have to start all over again 'casue I have forgotten what I read, so short stories suit my life. In my years I have read plenty of them and in all honesty I do not recall any of the 'published' stories I have read that stir emotion the way your stories have.I have laughed, I have cried.. hard.. reading your stories. I have not started one of your stories and part way in yawned because they have not caught my intrest.
    I am of the firm opinion that if you persist and accept your badges of honour knowing they are not a reflection on your abilities you will get published. Personally.. I think you should just go BIG. Compile a selection of your stories and submit them to several of the larger publishing houses. Seriously. I have several favorites of yours I read again and again. Don't let rejection defeat you. I suspect you can't help but take it personally becasue this is something you love. I imagine that your stories are like pregnancy and giving birth to a child. The seed grows in your mind and you develop it, nurture it, write and rewrite parts of it then submit the finished piece for all to read. Something that you put so much of yourself into.. well it makes sense that it will sting when it is rejected. Listen to me.. talking like I know what I am talking about. It is like someone is rejecting your child. if I am not mistaken.. a great deal of your NOW friends became friends because initially they enjoyed your writing. They didnt know you when they first logged on to read your Friday Flash. But they kept coming back because they were getting a great read and became your friends in the process. Crap,now I made this embarassing going on as long as I have, So..
    I am not one of your writerly freinds but I will answer anyway. I am one of those Idols who can sing but knows they can't sing as well as Idol I think you are. I am the one who sits outside waiting my turn and can hear the contestant inside singing from their heart with a natural talent that leaves me in awe and I think (WOW!!!! , I can't even come close to that) It's you inside that room.

  3. I have no idea which one I am, but I'll tell you this: I don't tell you I like your writing because you are my friend. In fact, if I didn't like your writing, we probably wouldn't be friends right now. Not that I'm only friends with good writers (perish the though!), but the reason I got to know you is because I read one of your stories and thought "Wow! That was great", and I kept coming back because your stories were funny, and entertaining, and touching, and you had that quintessential Canadian flavour that I love. You have such a list of really great stories. And I say that because it's true.

    And my ego - not fragile. Go ahead. Tell me I'm no good. Ego of steel I tells ya!

  4. "Besides, if they support poor writers, their own good writing will look great in comparison. (!)"

    -You better throw in that exclamation point. I mean really, who thinks like that? I would have little respect for anyone who did.

    I can't go along with the Idol comparison. I'm not like an Idol contestant because 1) I'm not competing with anybody for a title, and 2) I'm not seeking critique, not from editors, not from bloggers, not from the world wide web. I write for my own reasons and what I hope for are reactions, not critiques. The proper place for critiques are the classroom, workshop or private exchanges.

    My comments to you may be biased (I like you, so sue me) but they are always real. I will never tell you I think you're great or that I loved something if I don't mean it. For that matter I don't want to hang out with bad artists, I want to hang out with good ones. I think that makes me look good. K?

    Another reason I don't go for the Idol comparison: sending subs out to editors and self publishing on a blog are two different (although related) processes. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "real, unbiased feedback", but saying "no" isn't really feedback. You don't know why they said no unless they tell you. It's nice when an editor gives feedback, but when that happens it's a rare bonus. It's not their job to critique your work, only to gauge whether it's suitable (or there's room for it) in their journal or book. And the unsuitability of a piece does not necessarily have anything to do with its quality.

    Self publishing to a blog is a completely different process. In a way creative writing blogs are like open houses. The public is invited in, but the house still belongs to the writer. I don't think it's in my place to go into someone's house, eat their food and then say, "This sucks." If the writer specifically asks for constructive criticism I might give it, if I like them and their writing. But I don't remember you ever asking for constructive criticism.

    Buck up Cathy. The word "no" is a constant drumbeat in a writer's life.

  5. I think you need to keep three jars on your desk. One should be labeled Demons, one Prayers, and one Pearls. When you have a thought like "My writing sucks" write it down on a piece of paper and put it in Demons. This is an evil, wrong, waste of time thought. Then rephrase that thought into a Prayer. "Please lord help me to understand clearly why my writing is fabulous." Tuck that into the Prayer jar. Then, later when you think to yourself,"My writing is fabulous because I pour myself into it. I show a side of life that other writers don't fully connect with." Put that one in Pearls. Now here's the important part: don't reread any of them but the Pearls. I'll start you off. You have talent. You can write. You'll get 'em next time.

  6. I'll be blunt. It doesn't matter. None of this matters. You are a writer. You will always be a writer. Five million rejections or years of praise won't change anything. You do what you do because you are called to do, it is who you are, it feeds you, it makes things right.

    So just get on with it.

    Just write, cause all the rest of it is noise. And because no one else has ever in the history of the universe seen the world through your eyes.

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