The world of romance writing and Tyra Banks' show about modeling have more in common than you think. Both contain women pursuing their dreams with passion and intensity. Both are about conveying emotion artistically. And if you succeed, both thrust you into the public eye. What nuggets of wisdom from the show can be applied to the romance writing industry?
1. Jealousy hurts you more than it does the one you're jealous of. On America's Next Top Model (ANTM) when one girl observes a peer taking better pictures and garnering praise from the judges, jealousy is often the natural result. She feels defensive and maybe wants to rip the other girl's hair out so that next time her photo won't be so incredible. In the publishing world, when your peers are selling manuscripts and receiving three book contracts, you may also feel envious. Okay, maybe you are allowed a couple minutes of jealousy; you're human after all. But after that, try to see her side of things. Maybe she's been writing longer than you or working harder. You will help yourself more if you take this approach. Jealousy is a poison that will turn you into a bitter, cranky person. And it won't help you achieve your goals faster.
2. Play up your natural strengths. If a model has a killer runway walk, she's not only going to enjoy stomping down that runway at every opportunity, but also doing it with a flare and confidence that will get her noticed. As a writer, if you're good at writing love scenes consider focusing on spicy or erotic romance. If you're skilled in crafting edge-of-your-seat action scenes maybe you should write romantic suspense. Figure out your strengths and showcase them.
3. Practice overcoming your weakness. On ANTM this season, one of the girls didn't know how to change her facial expressions on camera. She showed the same blank look in every photograph. Tyra told her to practice smiling with only her eyes while looking in the mirror, and she did. What a difference. In her next photos, she received praise instead of blahs! If you're constantly receiving the same comments about your writing from editors, agents or contest judges, perhaps you should work on whatever element they're pointing out, whether it's improving the emotion or character motivation. Even if you're not a natural at something like this, you can still turn it into a strength through learning.
4. Don't over-think it. On ANTM it's obvious when a model is over-thinking a pose. It looks stiff and uncomfortable. In writing, if you're afraid of writing something "wrong" then you'll feel paralyzed. You won't move forward and your writing will feel awkward, forced or unnatural. Relax and let the words flow in your own voice. You can go back later and fix it.
5. Listen to the advice of industry professionals and those who have "made it." We can't see our own faults because we're too close to them. This is where a critique from someone more experienced is invaluable. Whether you are a model or a writer, if you are willing to absorb and put into practice the advice of those who know more about the business than you, you're halfway there. Some people are too stubborn to listen and they end up mired in their own illusions of grandeur. This is not to say you should change everything about your writing to please someone else, but seriously consider all helpful advice before you brush it off.
6. Don't argue. This relates to #5. The example from ANTM comes from a girl this season who continued to talk back to one of the panel judges with defensive smart remarks. They sent her home. When an industry professional or contest judge makes a comment about your work, whether you agree with it or not, don't argue. It's unprofessional. Thank them and move on. If you still disagree with their assessment and know for a fact they're wrong, ignore them.
7. You can be in the bottom two and still end up on top. One of the ANTM winners from a past season was in the bottom two a couple times. In other words, she wasn't doing so great half the time. She was a favorite of mine, very likable, tough but vulnerable. Some of her photos bombed. But she wanted it badly and worked on improving each week. In the end, she was the winner. None of us are perfect. Our manuscripts and novels aren't perfect. Some win contests, some lose. It's up to us to drag ourselves out of the bottom two and struggle up that ladder with an eye on our goal. No one said it would be easy.
8. How bad do you want it? Some of the girls on ANTM who end up in the top twelve don't really want to be a model. What are they doing there? I like to see them go home early and make room for those who want it and want it BAD. These people are pursuing their dreams and working hard; they deserve a chance to prove themselves worthy.
9. Keep the confidence. I've noticed many of the girls on ANTM start out fantastic, take wonderful photos, win challenges, but when their confidence dwindles so does their success. Maybe they did horribly the week before and now they believe they'll be sent home... and often, they are. When you interact with industry professionals, whether by email, letter or in person, present yourself with confidence. Believe strongly in yourself and your stories. But don't be cocky or have an attitude; this is as unappealing as low self-esteem.
10. A rejection doesn't mean your life is over. Even if a girl doesn't win ANTM, she can still have a successful modeling career. After a rejection letter, keep writing, working hard to improve and knowing you can succeed. You will.
Nicole North's novella "Devil in a Kilt" will be out in December '08 in Red Sage Secrets, Volume 27. Her websites are www.nicolenorth.com and http://fierceromance.blogspot.com/
This article first appeared in FTHRW's newsletter, Words From the Heart.