What “The Voice” taught me about writing

I watched “The Voice” for the first time ever this spring and for the most part it was like every other singing and talent competition out there with the exception of one segment of the show – the one where you got to see the coaches working with their teams. Those two minute clips made the entire show worthwhile to me. Why? Because they taught me a lot about writing.

Cool Microphone by Pixomar - freedigitalphotos.net

Cool Microphone by Pixomar – freedigitalphotos.net

Singing is a lot like writing. Everybody knows how to do it, right? It’s not actually that hard. Anyone can walk up on stage during open mike night or self-publish a novel and be discovered and be jetted off to L.A. / Nashville / New York City. I mean, you don’t need much more than basic talent – there isn’t any real technique to it.

I can’t sing. I know this. I do sing but the only money I’ll ever make at it is if people pay me to stop. I can, however, write. And, trust me, there is much more to writing than what you learned in school.

The contestants on the voice would go to rehearsal and belt out a song and to my untrained ears, most of them sounded pretty good. Then the coaches stepped in.  Their technical critiques amazed me. I recognized most of the vocabulary but it was incredibly cool to hear it all be put into use. It was almost like they knew what they were talking about. And their mentees had studied enough to understand and make changes accordingly.

To those of you who know writers, yes, that is what we sound like when we talk our books. It’s not all discussions about how hot sex scenes are or how hard we worked on themes. Content is part of it, of course. But we also have stirring debates about verb tenses and Oxford commas and first person vs third person narratives. Primary school taught you subject-verb-object. That is the equivalent of knowing how to read music. Putting it into practice is an entirely new level. Proper writing techniques are a huge part of what makes a good book good. Like listening to a person sing out of tune, an audience can definitely tell when a singer doesn’t have talent, and a reader can tell when a writer can’t write.

So go ahead and enjoy books and songs for what they are and the entertainment they provide you. But before you tell a writer that you think you’re going to write a book in your spare time, watch an episode of The Voice and see if you’d tell one of those judges that you were going to record an album one afternoon. If you’d hesitate to say that to a professional singer, reconsider what you’d say to a professional writer. Lots of people want to sing or write. Some people have a natural ability to do so. But everyone who wants to be a professional has to work damn hard to be successful.