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This final week of therealljidol, Season 8, the finalists are facing off with entries on the topic "Why I Should Win LJ Idol/Why My Opponent Should Win." This doesn't lend itself well to a home-game entry, but I had considered writing an "Iron Chef" parody about their final showdown, based on their entries. Then I read whipchick's thoughtful final entry, which provides great insights into how to do well in LJ Idol as well as what she got out of the experience. That got me to thinking about some truths I'd like to share.

Having participated in LJ Idol as a contestant in seasons 5, 6 and 8, and having played the home game in Season 7, I've seen and learned a lot that can benefit any writer.

  1. It's about more than just the writing. Make this statement in the Green Room, and you're likely to set off a debate about the ethics of "pimping" (sharing voting links on your LJ and in social networking sites and urging friends to vote). But that debate aside, there are always more factors involved. LJI voters often vote for the strongest writing, but they also vote strategically. If they're competing, for example, they may not vote for anyone whose improved score would endanger their own chances. Or they might vote to save a friend, or because you said something particularly nice to them in the Green Room yesterday. But though it might seem unfair, consider this: the writing profession as a whole is about more than just the writing. Writers who do a better job of promoting their work tend to sell more books. Writers who cultivate a positive public persona tend to do better than those who alienate their readers. Long all you want, but you will never write in a vacuum: your success is always subject to market dynamics, political and social climates, publishing world developments and more. The only way to avoid those factors is to keep all your writings private. That's what Emily Dickinson did, and if her sister Lavinia had followed her instructions, all of her manuscripts would have been burned on her death. I don't know about you, but I think the world would be a bit less brightly textured, had that happened.

  2. It's worth taking a risk. Especially at the beginning of the competition, when there were more than 300 entries to read, it's difficult to stand out. Minds work in similar ways, and so dozens of writers tend to take nearly identical approaches to the topics. In those early weeks, the writers who take the path less traveled stand out. If you're like me, you might vote for everyone who shows potential in those early days, but you're more likely to remember the ones that do something different. As the season draws on, it becomes more and more important to stretch yourself. Just like in any other reality competition contest, voters often tire of seeing the same thing again and again. Stretch your wings every once in a while, and try something that scares you as much as it excites you. Whether it's LJ Idol or writing in general, taking those sorts of risks often pay off with unforgettable pieces.

  3. Don't let anything stand in your way. As a work-at-home mom, I often had to finish pieces while an unhappy toddler literally ran his toy trucks over my feet. In Week 36, I wrote five pieces while helping to staff one of the biggest anime conventions in the U.S. Other people, like finalist whipchick, posted from all over the world despite touring with her company of performers and acrobats. Her co-finalist, notodette, posted while taking care of twin girls and working in the high-pressure field of broadcast news. Still others posted despite enduring personal tragedy, sickness, injury, scheduling conflicts, and a host of other difficulties. While there's no shame in knowing your limits, there's no pride like the pride you feel when you meet and surpass obstacles. Challenge yourself and reap the benefits.

  4. Be prepared for disappointment. Recently, my sister-in-law -- who's found some recent success with self-published erotica -- and I shared notes. We agreed that you should not try to be a writer unless you're ready to handle rejection. Maybe that super-creative piece, where you retold the tale of the Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus's dog, didn't go over as well as you hoped. Maybe your personal poetry about lost love failed to elicit any meaningful comments. Or perhaps you even got eliminated (and for all but one of us, that's bound to be our destiny). Don't lose hope. Use that experience as a way to learn. Do you need to play closer attention to audience? Or seek more constructive criticism (a.k.a. concrit)? Did you overestimate your abilities to write in a given genre? Or was the piece simply too long? Sometimes, it's not about what you did wrong. Sometimes, it's about what other people did right. Read the other writers' work, and assess why you think it works. Again, valuable advice for any writer, writing at any time.

  5. Have fun. At some point in the season, if you stick around long enough, it's easy to get bored (both as a writer and as a reader). If it's starting to feel more like a tedious task than a rewarding experience, it's time to reassess. The twists and turns that Gary (a.k.a. clauderainsrm) threw at us throughout the competition usually made me laugh out loud. "Well played," I found myself saying, again and again. While some of the twists made my jaw hit the floor -- 17 entries in ONE WEEK? -- I drew energy from each new challenge. It was invigorating. I stretched myself to the limit and wrote dozens of pieces I wouldn't have, otherwise. If you're not having fun, it's not worth doing. And probably not worth reading, either.

There are more lessons I could share, I'm sure, but it's time to cook dinner. Please stop by this week's topic thread and read the two finalists' entries. You'll be glad you did. Then, when the poll is posted on therealljidol, vote for whoever you feel should win, which I guarantee will be a difficult choice. 

And when you're done with all that, stop by my literary magazine to check out our first weekly post. After 11 years, I'm converting the magazine from a quarterly to a weekly format, in part because I know that posting things on a weekly basis will be less daunting than letting them pile up for three months. I've learned a lot from LJ Idol. One week at a time.

What have you learned?


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 28th, 2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
I wrote up a few thoughts like your first one in a post at the very beginning. All about the other factors at play and how it can affect you in the game. Those things do matter.

Being able to talk to people, to gain attention and be liked is important in any industry. It's all in how we market ourselves. Talent goes a long way, but there's a lot of talented writers who never get published. Why? Many reasons, but one of them is their inability to market themselves and take risks. They fear rejection. They don't stand tall and think their work is worthy of submission. They don't network very well. They don't feel comfortable saying, "Look! I wrote this and I think it's awesome!" out if fear that someone will tell them otherwise.</p>

All these things can work in your favor for Idol too.

Great post!

Aug. 28th, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
I should have credited you in part for point #1, since my thoughts on that particular aspect were cemented by a lengthy back and forth we had on that subject.

I'm a huge fan of "What Not to Wear?", and that show demonstrates that writers aren't alone in thinking that "who I'm inside should count." But again and again, the show participants find that their confidence increases when they begin dressing like the professional/artist/mom-on-the-go they want to be. So I agree with you: it's a common misconception and not just amongst writers.

Of course, unless you're incredibly lucky, you can't be entirely successful just based on networking and personality. You and whipchick didn't get as far as you did just because you were so active in the LJI community. There were plenty of very friendly writers who didn't make it that far, either because they ran out of motivation and dropped, or because they misjudged the audience that week.

(BTW, if you haven't already, you might find it interesting to ask Gary for more details about what the different groups of voters liked about your work and what they disliked in Week 36. I learned a lot of valuable take-away lessons from that.)
Aug. 28th, 2012 11:30 pm (UTC)
Very valuable advice. As I look to jump back into writing--to challenge myself and push myself and actually write dammit, I'm reminding myself of just how much goes into it. But I know I can do it.

whipchick's manifesto entry this week spoke to me on a deep level. It's probably what finally put the fire under my ass and got me back in the writing game, instead of just gazing on longingly from the sidelines.

This is also a good entry to see--lessons not just for Idol, but for writing in general. More to consider. More to ponder in my heart.
Aug. 29th, 2012 12:11 am (UTC)
Her entry spoke to me, as well. I'm very happy you've decided to write more regularly again. Now that the season is wrapping up, I hope to keep up with my FL better.
Aug. 29th, 2012 03:51 am (UTC)
Definitely relate to so much of this. And I have adapted it to my "real world" writing. Especially #1, I think. When I started out talking about my book on Facebook, I don't think I really envisioned it generating as much interest in people actually wanting to buy the book/see me succeed as it actually has. But I do think that's one of the most valuable things I've learned through this process.
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:20 pm (UTC)
Speaking of which, when will your book be coming out? Do you also plan to offer an ebook version?
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:27 pm (UTC)
I am hoping it'll be out in time for Christmas. I'd like for it to be completely edited by the end of October, if not before. So we shall see.

And yes, there will be ebook versions as well as paperback. PDF for sure, but then I still need to figure out how to convert it to other formats. I have some software that can do it for me, though, so I just need to see how that all works since I haven't done it yet.
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:37 pm (UTC)
Last year I wrote something up on my self-publishing process that you might might useful:


Provided your book doesn't have any tricky formatting (like footnotes), an automatic converter program would probably work to create a Kindle format book. I don't have experience making a Nook format book, though.
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
I did a quick skim to check if you started with Word like I assumed. I'm not using Word, I'm using LyX, which I find I prefer for my typesetting (I haven't even used Word in years anyway, I use OpenOffice to open Word files). But on the Scribophile web site I mentioned a while back is where I came across someone mentioning the best program to use for converting ebook files. LyX outputs PDFs, and is the program my husband uses to typeset all of the books he's had published. He's also been the self-publishing route and so I am planning on following in his footsteps, and going with the companies he found suited him better. ie, not using CreateSpace for the POD side, but another one that has a base in not only the US but the UK and Australia (also, CS took tax out for him so he had to file a tax return in the US, whereas the other one did not). The place he bought his ISBNs from also offers free listings in a database for bookstores and libraries to place orders and such. I'm very impressed with all of his knowledge ;)
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:51 pm (UTC)
Great tip. I've found that Word is very cumbersome, and my husband, a Web designer, says it throws in all sorts of extra coding that can muck things up. Could you share with me a link to your Scribophile Web site so I can add it to my writing links? I'm going to be following up on a lot of things, now that my Idol run is over. Chief project right now: putting together the 11th Anniversary book of Wild Violet works plus new material. Anything information that would ease that project would be appreciated!
Aug. 30th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
Yep, your husband is right. If you have any troubles with LyX, since it's built on TeX, your husband might be able to work things out... it might be more for the coding type person than a layman, I don't know. For the most part I think it's pretty straight forward, but there are some things I've done where my programming background has come in handy.

This is my profile there, but I believe you have to be a member and logged in to see it.

Good luck with the anniversary project!
Aug. 30th, 2012 06:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm hoping to it published by Philcon so that I can show off copies there.
Aug. 29th, 2012 04:24 am (UTC)
Well said. :)
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much.
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:15 pm (UTC)
After seeing that "17 posts in one week" hellweek, I **know** my life does not have room to be a serious competitor in Idol at this point in time.
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:22 pm (UTC)
I'm still amazed at myself that I managed to do that.

It's funny: at the same time I wonder if spending more time commenting on entries and participating in the Green Room would have helped me, I realized with a shock yesterday that I hadn't published anything on Wild Violet since October 2011! Guess why that is?
Aug. 30th, 2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
Great insights, and all so true!
Aug. 30th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm sure if I thought about it, I could add a lot more, but I was trying to get it written while my toddler was being very difficult.
Aug. 31st, 2012 01:43 am (UTC)
I had never even heard of this competition until I started following you. I had no idea you were a writer. I'd like to be but have no idea where to start. I do freelance writing for pay and I've been blogging or keeping a journal since I was twelve. I love to write. LOVE it. It doesn't show but if you look, I wrote quite a lot of random things over the years (I used to have a different lj, too, it's gone now).

Anyway, I enjoyed this post and you give some excellent pointers. Thank you.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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