One TV programme I always seek to avoid not just watching, but any mention of, is X Factor. I’m not sure if it has the same title in the US, perhaps it is still American Idol? I don’t know, but even for this blog I cannot bring myself to Google this question as I’d be embarrassed to have it in my search history. Although, there’s much worse in there. I could blame this on ‘writing research’ but I’d only be lying to myself.
So why do I hate it so much? Well, unfortunately I have seen enough of it over the hundred years or so it’s been on TV to be able to answer this question. I suppose it’s like having an understanding of religious texts so you can decide why you don’t believe in such and such, and argue the case. Or how I can explain to someone exactly why I don’t like Coldplay, while they tell me that what I listen to is just a noise (brilliant and thorough assessment there, thanks!).
What I hate about X Factor and its contemporaries, is the desperation.
“Ooh, all I’ve ever wanted to do is sing, I do it all the time, at work, at home, and err, other places. I was born to sing” You know what? We all love singing. I’m terrible, which is why I play the drums. But I do have ears and can appreciate how my vocal talents sound like I’m decapitating a zombie cat.
Worse still, is when they say they want their family to be proud of them. Ugh! It’s not the fame and money, then?
But let’s be honest, most of these people aren’t striving to make their mark on the music world are they? No, it’s the fame they’re after. Come on, give it a year or so and they’ll be making their names as reality TV stars instead. There’s less work involved in that.
If you really, really wanted to make it in the music business wouldn’t you, I dunno, work at it instead of entering some idiotic talent show to have it handed to you? Now some may say that those who venture far in the show do have to work hard and I’m being unduly harsh on their endeavours. But I’d bet that joining (or even starting) a band, playing pubs and clubs to empty rooms for five years before finally managing to build up enough contacts to finally get somewhere, is a lot harder.
Hell, I’ve played in bands where the only people watching were the bar staff and promoter (and the token drunks who were probably too wasted to know where the exit was). Granted, we used to play a mixture of grindcore, death metal, and sludge but the basis is still the same. Get off your arse and make it happen yourself instead of being handed it on a plate.
If you believe in yourself enough…(insert motivational quote here)
OK, I’ve had a mini rant there (that is mini by my standards), so how does this apply to writing?
Well, indulge me.
Imagine a talent show for writers using the same formula as these ‘music’ shows. And I mean a talent show for writers who have never had anything published, looking to make their as-yet-unthought-of book a best-seller.
Just think, there’d be a panel of judges; an agent who knows the market and what will sell at the present time, an editor who has worked with the greats, and a couple of best-selling authors who aren’t particularly known for their literary genius, but sell a shit load of books to, well, idiots!
So what happens in this great show that will never ever become a reality?
Well, the contestants queue up for hours, maybe even days, with their sob stories of their dead pets or estranged parents, or whatever. Once inside they stand before the judges with just a sentence of their work for critical appraisal.
Obviously we’ve got to include a few ‘losers’ who can hardly even read, let alone write, so we can all laugh at them. Because the Victorian freak show never left our ‘civilised’ society, we still need to feel comfortable about ourselves by laughing at others who are less fortunate than we are but don’t quite realise it. Shame on us all.
Right, so they’ve had their audition. Some will be laughed out of the door, some will plead like little girls to be given another chance, others will bring raised eyebrows and impressed looks to our hard-faced judges. Before we know where we’re at, it’s time for Writer’s Camp. During this time the successful writers will spend days locked away with only a pen and paper, and are only allowed rations of food when certain word-count goals have been met. Actually, perhaps that’s a pretty good thing to do anyway- there’s a free writing tip for you. You’re welcome!
And suddenly before we know what’s happened, it’s the Grand Final. Expectation is high, the nation is in rapture, everyone has a favourite they’ll be rooting for. The show is a five hour long literary journey (with three hours of ads, of course). The writers have been working their hands off (not like that!) and are now ready to share their polished work with millions.
Here’s the edited version. Someone wins. Their book is published. It’s plugged everywhere. It’s a best-seller. They’re on every show out there banging on about how this has always been their life-long dream. Sales eventually start to dwindle. There’s no follow-up book because they’re not being coached anymore and ‘fame’ has started to get to them. They appear on panel shows and reality TV just to make enough cash to keep the house, and to stay in the public eye. They try to write an autobiography, which sells, but it’s short-lived. They never write again. They die sad and alone warming their hands in front of a fire fuelled by hundreds of unsold copies of their book (well, maybe not the last point).
OK, so this is never going to happen, and if it did it would probably be nothing like this. But what am I really getting at here? I suppose grafting to make a name in the writing world is much like doing the same in the music one. The only difference is that pop music appeals to the masses a lot more than books do. And that’s cool.
I’m sure there are hundreds, if not more, singers and musicians who also scowl at the idea that it’s that easy to make a successful music career. Just the way that an amateur writer hears from people how ‘anyone can be a writer,’ ‘I’d write a book if I had the time,’ and so on. It’s annoying, you’re hard at work writing for hours at a time, well into the night sometimes, to hear people deride your efforts or tell you that it’s not that hard really. Although I don’t tend to share much of what I’m working on with friends and family. I just tell my victims, and they’re not going to be telling anyone!
Like I’ve said, this will never happen, and don’t worry I haven’t been pitching ideas to TV studios and am dealing with the rejection by moaning on a blog. But those hardworking musicians who struggle up their career ladder by suffering for their art are so much like the struggling author. So indie authors and indie musicians; keep at it, and ignore national TV talent shows, they’ll just make you angry. I think that’s the point of this piece. Maybe.
If this whole idea was a viable option for writers to take, would they? No, I don’t think so. There’s a word for it, erm, that’s it; integrity!
If you made it this far, big thanks!!