Thursday, March 25, 2010

Deliberate or Talent?

I am just now fully committed to the new season of American Idol. It usually takes me a few weeks to get there. I think about how I miss David Cook and Adam Lambert. How I’m probably never going to connect to another contestant the way I did with either of them or Fantasia. But then of course I do.

And even if I don’t I watch because I love the process these people go through. I can draw so many parallels to publishing.

You need to stand out. You need to be current, but you can’t be a copy. You need to take something that’s been done before and make it fresh. You need to have talent but you also have to have something “else” that sets you apart. And you need to make your impact fast. You don’t get a whole lot of second, third or fourth chances.

Anyone writing for a major publishing house today understands all of that. The days of slow growing an author are gone. More common is the blockbuster approach. Which means out of the gate the publisher is looking for the next great thing. Is that always the “most” talented writer? No. It’s the writer who found a way to turn something on its head. Who hit the right vibe at the right time.

The one thing we as writers are spared that Idols are not – is that they also have to have a certain look. Pretty, interesting, cool… whatever it is.

My standout so far this year… wacky Siobhan. Last week she did the Rolling Stones song Paint it Black. This performance struck me on so many different levels. First the way she started out quiet, then built the song and the performance. Then she hit her high crazy note, then she settled to a softer moment which showcased again how pretty her voice was.

David Cook mastered the art of BIG NOTE and quiet end. Adam Lambert mastered the art of drama. This girl to me combined those two elements to great effect. When I went back and watched the performance again I noticed the way her feet were positioned when she sat on the stairs to start the song. They were twisted and oddly placed. Like a doll just dropped on the stairs and it added to her look.

And what I wonder is… did she know to do that or was that just something that happened as a result of her being a gifted performer? Deliberate thought or natural talent? Simon has teased her about how “odd” she is. She has a way of speaking that sometimes makes you wonder if she’s “all” there. So I wonder is this girl just a natural and the things she does just "happen"?

Or is she really thinking about each element? The dress, the makeup, the movement, the positioning and most of all the execution of the song.

And the same is true for writers. When I read something so cool, I wonder did that just come to them? Did they think their way through it? Did they maximize a certain element because they knew it would resonate with the audience or did they simply write the story in their head and it happened to hit.

What do I do? I think about a lot of things. But then sometimes I just write and cool sh*t happens. (At least I think it’s cool).
But at the end of the day I think I would rather believe it’s deliberate. If it’s deliberate then enough brains can power you through a story that will be the next greatest thing.

If it’s magic… well then you’re relying on your muse, fate, the whims of the storytelling gods and all that other crazy stuff.

P.S. - I'm adding this after Tuesday night's performance. I didn't care for her as much this week. Which just goes to show the second hardest thing to do as a performer/writer - is being amazing. And then being amazing again!


Karen W said...

Stephanie, I'm a big AI fan. I even vote via text. My favorites are Crystal and Kasey. Just in case you were wondering

On the deliberate or talented, I've often wondered that. The most difficult thing for me to write is a big, soppy, emotional scene. When I read one that is so well done that it brings me to tears (like Kristin Hannah or Barbara Samuel/O'Neal), I read it and re-read it, and anaylyze it. Did they plan this? Or did it just pour out?

I think it's a combination of both. And I hope to get there someday with my own work.

As far as instant fame, yes - the publishers are looking for the next Stephenie Meyers, but sometimes a writer can plod along for years with nice sales, steadily increasing readership, and then they write THAT ONE BOOK. The one everyone is going OMG! That's the best thing ever written. And it hits the lists, all the readers go back and buy her backlists, and she's on her way. Witness Alyssia Day with her Atlantis series. She's been writing awhile and just now hit NYT.

That's my hope too - to someday be able to write THAT book. You know?

Eileen said...

One of the things that I find interesting in terms of process is how often I'm working on a problem or issue with a book with the logical part of my brain, figure it out and then realize that all the elements to set it up are already there. Now, did my logical brain just bring together what my subconscious had already set up. Or am I just taking elements and creating a solution. I think there's a combination of talent and deliberation that has to go into it.

Maureen McGowan said...

Great post Steph. I think in general I believe that magic can happen by accident, but to do it consistently, you have to at least have some understanding of what you're doing...

And Eileen... That's EXACTLY the way I feel about my work sometimes. I think that's what I like most about writing... the combination of the right and left brained stuff. Sometimes we need our logical/problem solving side to figure out what the other half is doing.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Be amazing and then be amazing again.... I think a lot of times being really amazing carries a performer/writer past some not so amazing things. A couple of amazings sprinkled among the better than averages sounds like a great career to me.

I am a little bored with Idol this year - I always think about David Cook too. I think he changed the game. Where did he go? He better not be someone else's boyfriend...

EILEEN - you nailed it - I'm with Maureen, that is one of my favorite parts about writing too. I have thing thing about looking left. I have a problem in a mms and I keep hammering away at it with the same tools, the same efforts and then, one day I look left instead of right and there's the solution waiting for me. So weird.

Eileen said...

And so oddly satisfying! As if maybe you'd been subconsciously setting it up all along!

Stephanie Doyle said...

Karen - Crystal and Kasey are solid choices!

And you're right that sometimes it just takes that one book to change the game.

Maureen - totally agree with the left and right piece. Putting the pieces of story together takes logic. Writing fiction takes creativity.

Maybe that's why my brain always hurts so much after long writing session.

Sinead M said...

I would take the writer who is amazing and inconsistent, then the merely average.
Any writer that inspires me to want to up my game, will have my loyalty.

And I agree.. AI, so blah this year. I miss David Cook...

Eileen said...

Maybe it's a little like when you're drawing something. The whole drawing doesn't have to be super-detailed, just a few sections of it, because people's brains will fill in the details for them.

If you're amazing in just the right spots, readers will fill in the amazing in the other areas with their own minds.

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