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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?