I woke up thinking about Idol. Actually thinking about what the judges were trying to tell the contestants at the end of their efforts. Mostly Simon, because as annoying as he is, he’s generally right. He isn't ULTIMATELY right about any particular person, but about the performance, oh yes, baby. And once again, I see how his words apply to me and other writers.
What resonated this morning was his comments to Ayla who, by the way, I really like. All three judges agreed that she is "better" than they thought she would be, and Simon attributes that to hard work and focus. Hmmmmmm, a little talent, hard work, focus, and it still feels forced? That last phrase, “feels forced,” the bane of my writing—no, my WHOLE life—is what woke me up.
Going to the Summer Iowa Writing Festival is like going on American Idol. The instructors are the judges. Our classmates, fellow contestants. There is no "America" yet because first, we have to get to the final 24: in this case, something published.
I’ve been “judged" through the years in Iowa. There have always been "bits of writing" that my peers have liked, but over all, "Where is it going?" "What does it mean?" "You're trying too hard" have been the essence of what I've heard. “Trying too hard?” Yikes. The world loves someone with "a little talent, hard work, focus," yet, god forbid, you "try too hard." Isn't trying hard just "passion?"
So here’s the question, does passion equal talent? An instructor once praised another student's work as an example of "effortless” writing while telling me my story was contrived, overworked, heavy. He wasn't trying to hurt my feelings, just to use an illustration of what to strive for. Can you strive for effortlessness?
I didn't get it then, but I'm beginning to get it now. Some people, like Lisa Jackson and Paris Bennett, who are young and have grown up singing, appear effortless. Some of this is because they have natural talent, but also because they’ve been doing it their whole lives. What did Lisa tell us last night? Something like two years on stage with “The Lion King?” And Paris? Growing up in a family of professional singers? How many times at ages 3, 6, 9, 11, 15, did they hear "You go, girl"?
Ayla hears those words too. While she’s running up and down the basketball court, I’m sure her folks are cheering her on. Her talent and her desire to sing have taken a back seat until now. Does that mean she can’t win American Idol? Can't move from the gym to the stage? Is it too late? What about Kinnick, Mandisa? Is it too late for them too? Should everyone who hasn’t lived for their dream their whole lives just give up?
Never. Not if they want to do it. There is a variable that must be taken into consideration here. That variable has to do with time and effort, and yes, striving. That variable is about the moment when, after practicing and practicing, you don’t even have to look at the basket to score. You don’t need to psyche up to sing. You don’t have to question whether or not you’re “good” when you sit down at the computer. That variable is the “when.”
When will your mind, body, and heart feel so comfortable on the basketball court that everything comes without thinking? You know when you're in the “paint” and how many seconds are still on the clock. In sports they call it “ball sense.” In singing, they say “You own the stage.” In writing, it’s when the reader finishes your stuff and says “Wow.” That “wow” happens when it happens, and it’s different for everyone.
“When” is the variable and, of course, each person must deal with that variable according to her own effort, her own talent, her own commitment. Just because Kinnick is 28 and hasn’t made it yet, doesn’t mean she should get a civil service job with the post office. It takes a long time to get to know yourself, to see what it is you have to offer, and know what to do with it. Some people give up. Some don’t. And when that moment comes that what you do is “effortless,” you win, and that’s all that really matters.