I am about to compare the average Idol (American Idol, Australian Idol, Pop Idol, whatever idol) wannabe to those who wish to ply their trade as a writer.
Now, before the abuse starts, let me make one thing perfectly clear – I actually dislike these talent shows. They look for the most generic looking and sounding and inoffensive person possible in order to sell records for a few months to some screaming kids before the next “thing” comes along. They treat people as completely disposable. Sure, some manage to break out, but so many don’t.
About now, you’ll be seeing the similarities with the publishing game.
But it’s more than that. It’s to do with the hundreds or thousands of wannabe artists who audition for the show. You know, those first episodes where we see the judges put through their paces with the worst possible singers (the only entertaining bits of the shows, really). These judges have to see thousands of people – they are not going to put them down gently and save their feelings. They are going to be brutally honest. Because the time to be let down gently was long before they stepped foot in front of the judging panel. Talking to editors, I have discovered that putting together an anthology is exactly the same.
So why do these people do it?
It’s because of their families and friends. It is all their fault. They think they’re doing the right thing, of course. When the first words are scrawled on a page, or the first notes are warbled, the friends and families tell the person they are doing so well. They say the artist is really good. And, here’s the kicker, they say this even if they are not that good. They build up this false dream of success and talent, and the potential artist, having no other frame of reference, believes them.
And then they go on a show like Idol or submit to an anthology and are rejected so completely, utterly and wholly that I am sure many never bother again.
These friends and family are doing the person a great disservice. They need to be honest. Sure, some tact helps, but they cannot lie and say, “You’re wonderful!” or, “That’s very good, dear,” when they don’t mean it. They need to say, “It’s a good idea for a story, but it gets bogged down in the middle,” or, “You hold the tune well, but you’re missing a lot of notes.”
But, the friends and family cry, that will destroy them! I don’t want to destroy their dreams!
If they are serious and it is what they really want, then it won’t destroy their dreams. If you do it with enough tact, they will go and try to improve themselves. If you are blunt, then they’ll improve in an “I’ll show them all!” state of mind. If they do give up, then maybe they weren’t that serious, maybe they weren’t that devoted to it. Maybe they wanted an easy way to fame and fortune. And in the arts that’s not going to cut it. You have to want it in order to succeed.
For my part, I found out about 2 years ago that a number of my friends who I trusted as critics of my work had been blowing smoke up my arse like this, telling me my writing was good when they didn’t mean it. What this meant was that I wasted years not really improving except through natural attrition because I trusted them and what they said. But joining a critique group made me wake up to my shortcomings. The three years I’ve been with them I have received more positive feedback and constructive criticism than I ever did in the 20 years of writing beforehand. And my writing has clearly improved with this help – I have a book and almost two dozen short stories in print now.
So to those who are saying things so that they do not hurt the artist’s feelings, you are hurting them in other ways, more than you can possibly realise. Honesty with a healthy dose of tact will work, if it is what they really want. If they do give up, then you’ve saved them future embarrassment and possible psychological damage.
I just wish 15 years ago I had friends who did this…