I like to watch American Idol and The Voice, and it’s not the singing that compels me to watch the shows. I love watching people from different backgrounds become stars in a few weeks. Most of the contestants have a natural talent and some skills, but they actually don’t know how talented they are.
From coaching from talented musicians and feedback from judges who are in the profession, the contestants progress from neophytes to polished performers (some of them).
The same thing happens with writers. We go to classes, conferences, writer’s meetings, and critique groups were we are exposed to talented writers and editors. From them, we grow and become until we get our sea legs through publication or other recognition.
The song show contestants often have skill that most of the nation can see before the contestant themselves admit to being talented. Through continued urging from the coaches to “let go and be themselves,” they finally unfold on stage when they learn to be.
Again, the parallel with writers is evident. Writers should study the classics in their genre, read as much as they can, and learn as much as they can, but until we learn to have our own voice, to let go and be, we sound contrived.
Listeners and readers can recognize the difference between performers (writers or singers) who are doing what they are doing self-consciously, just as they can recognize the performer is doing what they do without thinking about the audience or the reader.
When the artist gets to that point, what they do looks effortless and is a pleasure to hear, watch, or read. Before that, something is just a bit off.
Getting to the point of being able to appear to perform without effort is our goal. That’s when we’re entertaining. But like the Wizard of Oz, there is a lot that has to go on behind the curtains.