I don’t watch a lot of television, but most of us are familiar with “American Idol.” Each year, “Idol” makes a big deal of the really bad auditions, and some viewers enjoy them more than the actual competition. I looked at some of them on YouTube, but decided not to post any here. Most of the young people who audition for “Idol” believe they have a shot, and it’s heartbreaking to watch a bad singer ridiculed.
What always struck me about these bad auditions was the rejected contestant sobbing into the arms of a parent or friend who repeatedly told them that the judges didn’t know anything. Yes, my darling, you can sing! Wait a minute. I just witnessed a terrible audition of someone who clearly could not sing, but here was a loved one telling them that the judges were dead wrong.
And this got me thinking about writing. Friends and family have provided me with positive feedback and reinforcement. As well they should – they’re family and friends! When I embarked on writing my first novel, I told a couple of my girlfriends what I envisioned the plot to be, and they all said it was a great story.
A couple of months in, I signed up for an online writing course, figuring I could use what I learned, and submit what I’d written. For our final project, we were to submit the first 500 words of our work in progress. Well, I knew I had a fabulous piece (free of misspellings and grammatical errors, of course), and submitted it with confidence at the end of the eight weeks.
Imagine my surprise when the professor critiqued it, telling me (kindly) that it was boring! Boring! That these 500 words were not enough to make her want to read more, let alone buy the book. Immediately, I turned to my friend Lynne. I e-mailed her the piece I’d submitted, and, dear friend that she is, she told me she thought it was great. A few days later, I revisited the piece and the critique. And you know what? The professor was right. There was nothing there to grab a reader. Yes, it was well-written and descriptive. But this professor, who didn’t know me, was an objective reader who gave an unbiased opinion. And it helped me to create an entirely new beginning.
I still shared the (revised) first chapter with a far-away friend, someone I hadn’t seen in over 30 years but whose opinion I respected. She liked it, which was good for my ego. But I haven’t shared it with any other friends. Because I know they’ll be kind, just as I would be with them. That will feed my ego, but not necessarily make me a better writer.