August 28th, 2012


(This post has a ton of links - they are amplification if you have time, not mandatory detours.)

notodette is a wonderful writer. She’s sharp and funny and brave. She’s willing to name her darkness and speak the unspeakable, to rummage in the family closet and sell out her co-workers, pairing the beautiful selfishness of an artist with the openness needed to tell her stories to the world.

My favorite of her stories: Sated, in which she graphically and hilariously describes sex before and after having kids.

My favorite of her characters: The Stepmother, who, it turns out, was trying her best to save Snow White.

And my favorite line: It's not the words that hurt, but the silences that form in their echo.

She’s amazing, and from my own selfish artist perspective, she’s been a terrific competitor, someone whose work inspires me to also do my best.

And as for me?

I have a secret.

I’ve been writing this post since I signed up. Making notes. Reading previous seasons. Figuring out what wins votes, what makes good writing. Every week focusing on an element of craft or structure or genre or voice, paying attention to something that will make me a better writer, a better artist, weekly self-assignments to get from “hello, here I am,” to Final Two.

And over the course of 39 weeks, those notes, this practice, has become a manifesto:

How to Win LJ Idol

Write with a plan. Decide what you want to improve about your work. Connect with new writers in the real world and the competition, every week. Choose friends outside Livejournal to share your work with. Get feedback from writers and co-workers and readers of every level from read a beer bottle once to “better writer than you are.

Put writing first. Stay up late. Get up early. Make it the top of the list, above laundry and getting paid and sometimes above lunch. Skip out on your other responsibilities. If you’re an overachiever, narrow your focus. Trust that your children will learn to feed themselves, your boyfriend will manage his socks, shaved legs are overrated.

Be honest. Make your motivations clear. Stay direct even when polite. Tell it like you see it, but tactfully.

Be generous. With your time, with your talent, with your encouragement and feedback. Read everything—strategically, you’ll know what you’re up against; competitively, you’ll be challenged and inspired. Beta-read as often as you can. Comment on everything. We all feel like we’re howling into the void, and even “Enjoyed reading!” is a lifeline from the dock of humanity we’re paddling so desperately toward. Being “popular” and being engaged in the community are the same behavior with different hats.

Be supportive. But when you think someone is ready for it, when you’ve built a relationship of encouragement and support, give the best feedback you can. There’s no joy in victory unless your opponents are strong. There’s no honor in winning unless you did your best to make the game as hard as possible.

Challenge yourself. Never take a bye without a major life event. Write when it’s not easy, when you’re not inspired, when you have nothing to say. Write when it isn’t fun, when it’s a slog up the mountain in the rain. Easy accomplishment is cheap; fighting for the words and winning—even barely, even when it’s not your best work—lets you know you can do it again.

Vary your style. Write work that stands alone. Write serial chapters so strong people want to read what they’re from. Write genres you’re not interested in—you may surprise yourself. Write short pieces to show the power of your brevity. Write long pieces to show your staying power. Remember that short attention spans can be your friend; standing among 300 can make you shout louder or whisper more piercingly.

Be ambitious. Be brave. Be ruthless. Be raw. Write about pomegranates and roller coasters and cement mixers. Write about your relationship and your relationship with your mother and your relationship with your depression. Write to honor your dead. If you are going to write about the zombie apocalypse you had better have something damn original to say.

So here I am. Final Two. Because I wrote good pieces and got my non-LJ friends engaged as readers and voters and made some friends in LJ and played my strategy cards reasonably well. But that’s not what makes me a writer. That’s not what makes any of us writers—artists—winners.

You write, you write, always you write, and in the end, you win because you show up.

Show up to the page. Show up to the community. Show up to your colleagues’ writing. Show up to the eliminated and the Home Gamers and the writers you know who aren’t even competing but still need to know they’re not alone. Show up with your voice. Show up with your style. Show up with what you love and why it matters, and lay it on the page, naked and alone and afraid, but showing up.

It will be terrifying.

You may feel like you are howling into the void. You are, but there are others in the void, howling back.

And as long as you keep howling, you win.

You win.

You win by being there, and you win by being able to write about it, and by writing about it even when you’re not able, when you are crippled and limping and the pen in your hand is running low on ink and all your paper is wet with tears.

You win.

And the cruelest joke the universe plays is that when you win, it’s not the end of the game. It’s getting bumped up to a higher level with harder obstacles, and you can never go back and be satisfied playing the level that you already beat.

I have one more secret. That when you show up, and you reach out with generosity, and you do your best work or your second-best work and summon up the bravery to share it, you create a community. You, a writer, the loneliest of artists, become part of a team. And even when you are home alone, sweating in the Louisiana heat and cursing things that buzz, or walking down 5th and wondering if there might be just one affordable place in this city of strangers and darkness while gearing up to freeze your ass off for the next four months, you are still playing as part of a team. They are in the shadows and they are on the other end of the internet and they are reading your words and saying,

me, too.

Me, too.

After these 39 weeks, whipchick has realized she needs to write more, and is taking six months off to do just that.