Friday, May 1, 2009

Learning From Susan Boyle

Yesterday, Rachelle Gardner had a post about what writers can learn from the Susan Boyle phenomenon. She offered two lessons. One, the impression we make early on is the most important. I remember taking a career development class in junior high. One of the things I remember is something about the first twelve being the most important in an interview. We walk in the door and the first twelve seconds forms the first impression. A decision will likely be made in the first twelve minutes, though the interview may go on longer. The point is that we never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

The second lesson Rachelle mentioned was that it is the work that matters most. That one’s a little bit of a stretch, I think, as you will see in a moment. Yes, Susan Boyle can sing. She can sing very well. The problem is that looking to Susan Boyle for advice on how to succeed is a little like asking financial advice from a lottery winner. There was once a man who had done quite well for himself. He had a nice home, a nice car and plenty of money to give to charities. A television reporter asked him, “how did you get so wealthy?” The man thought for a moment and then said, “When I was young, we didn’t have two pennies to rub together. I decided then that I didn’t want my children to live like that, so I studied hard and I managed to get a scholarship to go to college. I graduated with high marks and I went out into the world to get a job. For years I worked, trying to make money, but I still didn’t have great success. Then one day I saw this lottery ticket on the ground…”

Rachelle is right that good writing is important, but if we can learn that from Susan Boyle, then what are we to learn from William Hung? The thing that these two have in common is that they took us by surprise. As writers, the most important thing we can learn from Susan Boyle is to be different. Based on some of the stuff reaching publication, I would say you don’t even have to write well (though I wish you would). The most important thing is for your work to stand out. Isn’t that the lesson we learned from The Shack?

But, I can’t help but wonder. Do we really want to aim for being the next anomaly? If we hit the mark and get that million dollar advance, it would be great, but that is a rare accomplishment, just like few of the people who try out for American Idol get to see the judges, much less make it into the final rounds of the competition. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I haven’t given up on the idea that a writer (like one of his characters) can build success rather than needing a defining moment that catapults him to success. Then again, I could just be an ideological fool. (More on that Monday.)