THE VOICE: A Writer’s Dream

By AJ.iitm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Lately on Monday and Tuesday nights, you’ll find me glued to the tube. I write this with some regret because if you recall, last year we got rid of cable TVcompletely—but then “they” made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: free cable TV for a year.

Sounds great, right? But here’s the problem. Before, I would watch the occasional movie on Netflix, sometimes an old TV show. But now? I watch TV. More specifically, I watch whatever’s on TV. In fact, that’s how I found my latest TV obsession: THE VOICE.
This is my first season watching THE VOICE, but I can already tell you that all writers should be watching this show. First, it’s high drama. Second, it’s reminiscent of a writer’s querying experience. If you haven’t seen it, in this reality TV show, singing contestants audition to be named “the voice.” To begin with, four teams of sixteen contestants are formed—each coached by a celebrity singer.

But here’s the best part. The competition is done by blindaudition. The four vocal judge/coaches (Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton) have their backs to the contestants as they sing. If a coach likes what he/she hears and wants the singer on his/her team, he/she presses a button on their chair and they are magically turned around. (Okay, maybe it’s a mechanical switch that turns the chair around, but it seems magical. Stay with me here.)

Sounds simple and even kinda stupid, right? But no. It’s amazing. Because if more than one judge turns around, the lucky singer/contestant gets to choose which vocal coach they want to work with! And the coaches fight and compete amongst themselves—while at the same time trying to woo a contestant’s attention. Like I said: high drama.

The parallels to my querying process do not escape me. For one thing, I am quite impressed with the guts a contestant has to have to even enter the competition. One shot. Ninety seconds on stage. A query letter. Sing well enough to make a judge or two or three or maybe even four turn around. Enticing an agent (or two or three or four) to read a manuscript.

It makes me think. What if I had to stand on a stage and read the first page of my manuscript? Would my voice quaver? Would I have the high drama Christina was waiting for? Could I hold the tension long enough to make Adam Levine turn around? Would my premise be quirky enough for CeeLo? Could I belt it out honky tonk enough for Blake?

And what if I blew them all away with my prose, my dialogue, my characters? And they all turned around? Who would I choose and how?

Of course, the truth is there is no reality show for writers—but if there was? What would that look like? Maybe not a stage with magical chairs for coaches. Instead maybe it would be a room full of writers at tables or in a library, pecking away at laptops, torturing themselves until they were happy. The coaches in magical rolling chairs appearing at a writer’s elbow, saying yay or nay to a manuscript page. It sounds kinda stupid, right? But if there was a reality show like that, I know I’d want to go on, give it my best shot, turn those chairs around.

But until that day, I’ll live the dream with those singing contestants on THE VOICE. I’ll be glued to the tube Mondays and Tuesdays, of that you can be sure, watching each singer give it her/his all.

Sing your heart out, go after your dream—I’m rooting for you!

Have you ever watched THE VOICE? If there was a writing reality show, would you step up to the plate….er, laptop? Being on THE VOICE is also kind of like going to a pitch session, which I’ve only done once. What are some of the ways you’ve put yourself out there and gone after your writing dream?



  1. I didn’t know you’d gone to a pitch session, Julia. Ballsy (the thought of it frightens me slightly). Do tell us more. Where? How many agents did you pitch? What genre? When? Outcome?

    Great post! I got hooked on The Voice last year (for the same reasons – all the drama, and of course, I appreciate beautiful singing voices!), but had to force myself not to get caught up in watching it ALL the time. So I tuned in at the beginning of the season and the end only. TOUGH to do -but it gave me so much more time for reading!

    Great analogy all around, Julia. And so true the similarities. And yes, damn it, I would try out for the writing reality show and torture myself until I was happy.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post and can relate to The Voice obsession — I definitely think I’ll need to rope in my viewing habits! As for the pitch…it was a pretty frightening experience. It was a few years back, two agents at a conference, MG fiction. Let’s just say it did not go well. Bottom line (looking back) I was not well prepared and had a miserable car trip home. In retrospect I would’ve done things so much differently, but then… live and learn! I would do things very differently now, and would love to pitch and/or be on a reality show for writers!

  2. Barb Riley says:

    After occasionally watching some of the other talent shows (American Idol, America’s Got Talent) with my kids, I found The Voice to be refreshing in that it’s NOT about how showy the contestants are. What a great concept to gauge only the voice of a singer. And yeah, the parallel to querying agents is noteworthy. Btw, wasn’t there some sort of writing talent/reality show in the UK a while back? I never saw it but I remember hearing about it. Omg, I think I would pass out if I had to stand in front of a panel of judges and read my manuscript, let alone the stress of being on a televised show. Eek! But imagining doing so is definitely a great motivator for creating a kick-a$$ opening and story! But it also puts enough pressure on me to make me want to retreat into a corner somewhere. LOL So I guess I have some public-speaking training to do if I want to go after my dream in a big way, ala` The Voice…

    • The Voice really is refreshing, isn’t it!? And actually Barb, now that you mention it, I think you’re right that there was a short-lived reality show with writers… I read something about it, too, at some time. As for the stress a live reading might cause? I agree, I would need some kind of public speaking training or coaching to keep my voice from getting high and squeaky and speedy fast — of course maybe that would set me apart? I guess that’s what I love about The Voice… you never know what’s going to make that judge turn around!

  3. lisa ahn says:

    I love The Voice, for all the reasons you outline here. So much drama and hope — and such amazing singing! Last year, I watched the beginning and the end, like Melissa. My favorite part is the blind auditions. I love the backstories they tell about some of the contestants too.

    Last May, I went to a conference in Boston. The Drum was having a flash fiction contest where you went into the recording studio and read your piece and then they picked the best to be in the magazine. I was terrified, but I did it and felt good about how it went. Didn’t win or even come close — but I’m still glad I pushed myself. It was something I didnt’ think I could do and then, viola, it was done.

    • I’m glad you mentioned the backstories, Lisa — I forgot to mention those, and like you, it’s one of my favorite parts, as well as another parallel with writing. I am guessing I’ll have to limit my viewing at some point, too, and I’m guessing the blind auditions will be my favorite part as well (I’ve never watched any of it before this season!).

      The Drum! That’s awesome that you recorded flash fiction for the contest — I remember that. That really is quite similar to The Voice for writers, so I’m glad you tried out. I would have been terrified too, but it’s very cool that you did it! What a fascinating experience and opportunity! And as you say, a perfect opportunity to push yourself. Way to go!

  4. Perry Block says:

    I haven’t really watched The Voice, so my insightful comments about it are limited to not understanding how anyone can find attractive a tattoo extending all the way up someone’s arm like Adam Levine’s. I always want to jump when I see it because it looks to me like a large lizard is climbing up his arm! (Of course, I’m a Baby Boomer; most of us love hair, not tattoos.)

    A similar show for writers would be pretty cool except the winners would probably be those writers whose stories were the most predictable, characters the most stereotypical, and writing the most melodramatic. In short, I’d have a shot! Hope some Hollywood type comes up with it soon.

    Thanks for your interesting post.

    • Often it’s the quirky and unusual that get attention on The Voice, so hopefully the same would be true for writers… as for Adam Levine’s tattoos? I’ve gotta say that’s part of his charm, and if it was me? I’d definitely have to go with Team Adam. (p.s. If you get a chance, check out The Voice… you might be surprised!)

  5. The Voice is great. You are so right. Very high drama. It’s hard not to get carried away with it. And what a great point you made analyzing it with a writer’s query process. Having to read it out on stage…eek. That thought might give me nightmares.

    • So glad to meet another fan of The Voice. And so true that it’s hard not to get carried away (even my husband, as he left for work this morning, said to me: “It’s Monday… The Voice!” As for reading on stage, yes nightmares, but yes, would also have to do it! Not you? 🙂

  6. Love “The Voice.” Have been hooked since the first season. It’s fun to watch other creative types attempting to fulfill their dreams. I agree with everyone else here–the backstories are the best.

    And in general, the concept of being judged purely for your work, in this case, vocal quality, is enticing.

    • I agree, Karen, it’s SO fun to watch other creative types attempt to fulfill their dreams in such a tangible way! And the concept of being judged purely for your work — must be so refreshing for those singers! (p.s. Now I’m starting to feel like I’m late to the party, sad to have missed out on the other seasons… )

  7. Yeah, it is kind of like doing an agent pitch – good comparison. That’s probably about as close to the ‘Voice’ experience a writer usually gets. Although, when we have an agent ask for more to read it can feel like that moment onstage. The waiting for the yea or nay email, imagining what page they might be on and what they might think.

    Imagine having more than one agent want you? That would be an amazing experience. Even better would be getting the news from your agent that more than one publisher wanted your work, and it was creating a bidding war – not THAT would be wonderful!

    • At least the waiting for a yay or nay is in the relative-comfort of our homes… but yes, that’s as close as it gets, I agree. As for more than one agent or a bidding war? That’s about as wonderful as it gets, I agree!!

  8. I’ve never been interested in The Voice (I don’t care for singing shows), but I do like the analogy aspect here. “The Gong Show” at DFWcon was a lot like this: a reader read (anonymous) queries aloud and agents “gonged” when they would stop reading. Very high entertainment factor, for sure. Maybe I should give The Voice a shot after all!

    • I actually can really relate to not caring for singing shows, Annie — I usually don’t either (this is the first one I’ve ever watched!) so that’s probably a huge part of the surprise element for me liking it so much! The DFWcon gong query show really does sound very similar — a true writer reality show! Did you ever participate? Maybe you would like The Voice — I guess the blind audition part is only the first third of the season… so maybe give it a shot tonight?! Let me know what you think!

  9. Erika Marks says:

    Julia, I had no idea that was the gimmick of the show–now THAT I would watch! (But of course we don’t have TV–think it might be on HuLu?)

    I’ll look into it…;)

    • I think you’d find it interesting, Erika — so much to like as a writer: the empathy with the performer, the judging aspect, the backstories, and of course the drama 🙂 Quite the potential for character observation! Not sure about Hulu, but if so, I’d love to watch past seasons, too!

  10. Neat comparison, Julia. In college, I read a few pages of fiction in front of an audience of about fifty. I tore through them so fast, I barely even breathed. It was awful. I’m hoping when it’s time to read again, this time I don’t blow it. Regardless of where we are on this publishing journey, we must all keep remembering to breathe. 🙂

    • You sound just like me — barely breathing when I need to speak in public, so I can imagine reading my words would leave me breathless. I love this: “Regardless of where we are on this publishing journey, we must all keep remembering to breathe.” So true. Because there’s always something…

  11. I love the idea of you belting it out honky tonk, Julia. That did make me laugh! I watched this too when it was on and kind of liked it. I enjoyed the audition part, but didn’t think the later part was so good. It is an interesting parallel though to the querying process, and one I hadn’t thought of. I would love to think I was brave enough to do a writing equivalent of this, but having refused to read my poems at poetry events… nope, it’s just not going to happen is it? 😉

    • I’m glad to make you laugh, Abi — you have no idea how really funny it is until you hear me sing, though 🙂 Since I haven’t watched beyond the blind auditions, I wonder if I like you won’t like the later parts as much. As for the bravery, I like to think I’d be able to, too… but I’m not sure I could take it either! EEK!

  12. Aisha says:

    Free TV for a year?!?! Wow! We recently cut our cable for about four months. It’s back on now thanks to my husband’s addiction to the football season so I can relate to this post. It’s a real danger for writers because it can suck so much time away and even when its on as background its taking away critical deep thinking space IMO. What I do on days that I just want that backyard noise I put on an episode of The Office. I’ve seen each episode LITERALLY ten times so its something I don’t have to think about in the slighest.

    And yes I love the Voice!!!!! I never quite thought of it in that way though, thanks for the food for thought 🙂

    • I know… free TV for a year was unbelievalble, but of course they’re already making money off our internet and phone… so free is a relative term… But it’s also not free because it really does, as you say, suck so much time and creativity away. And “critical deep thinking space,” too, what a great way to put it. (p.s. that’s hilarious about seeing The Office so many times that it’s background; I think that’s how I got with some of the shows my kids watched over and over again 🙂

  13. I’m a Project Runway fan, so I imagine a reality show called Project Manuscript — each week there’s a new challenge: Write the first chapter of a YA novel! Write the first page of a paranormal thriller! Write a picture book that uses NYC as inspiration! And each week another writer is eliminated, until there’s one writer left who wins a multi-book contract with a major publisher!

    • Project Runway is addictive… and almost as fun for me to watch as The Voice. And that is an amazing idea to have a show called Project Manuscript! I love it — time to write a pitch! Thank you so much for your visit to my blog and for your comment. Nice to meet you.

  14. My writing dreams have only happened on the freelance side. Blogging steered me to try freelancing and to put myself out there. I prayed someone would like what I wrote and give me a chance. Then I would know I could really write.

    Fiction is a completely different “show.” I am light years behind where you are now but yes, if there was a reality show for writers, why the hell not?! Yes, the rejection part sucks but we all just want validation.

    I have only watched The Voice once or twice as I’m not much of a TV person anymore. I did like the concept and what they were going for. I wasn’t a big fan of the judges, however. If I was a judge, I would NOT turn my back on you, dear Julia. xo

    • Light years behind me in fiction? I don’t know about that… I think we’re all out there hoping someone will give us a chance. With blogging, with fiction, with freelancing. All out there, hoping someone likes what we write. Which makes it all the more heartening to know you’d be rooting for me, Hallie, and wouldn’t turn your back! THANK YOU! 🙂 xox

  15. Love your analogy between The Voice and querying, Julia! It would be a great twist to get on stage and let agents “bid” on our work. Though the stage fright would likely paralyze me into sounding like a mouse on morphine. 🙂

    I had a disastrous pitch session years ago also. It was clear that the editor hadn’t read my pages before coming, but I really wasn’t ready either. I didn’t bring my A game. So much pressure. It takes a certain kind of personality to excel in those situations – not an introvert like me.

    • I love your description “a mouse on morphine.” HAHA. That’s exactly how I feel (and probably sound, too). And like you, my pitch session was disastrous. I was woefully unprepared and had no idea what I was doing. Like you I’m an introvert and it is very hard for me to excel in those situations (so why am I considering The Voice would ever be a good idea??)! Glad you enjoyed the post, Jackie!

  16. CMSmith says:

    I don’t doubt that it’s a compelling show, but I just can’t take another one on. I’m hooked on Dancing with the Stars myself. It’s an interesting parallel you make. Unlike you, I don’t believe I would ever stand before harsh judges just hoping and praying to make the cut. It’s the introvert in me.

    I hope you’re hanging in there with your querying. I know it’s something you really want. They say if you really stick with it, something will come your way.

    • Believe me, I can understand being hooked on Dancing with the Stars, too — I used to watch that all the time with my daughter! As for taking the chance with the harsh judges? If I had the chance I’d have to (despite the fear and being an introvert!). Thanks for the encouragement on the queries, Christine, I appreciate it so much!

  17. V.V. Denman says:

    I’ve never watched The Voice, but now I want to!

    Last weekend, I attended my first pitch sessions . . . and survived. But I LOVE your idea of a pitch/query show. I would definitely watch that one.

    Fun post!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, V.V. (and nice to see you!!). Last night was the last night of “blind auditions” on The Voice, so I’ll be curious to see if I still like the show now that it seems like it will be a more traditional singing reality show….

      I’m envious of your opportunity to pitch — hope it went well! It’s been a long time since my (fairly disastrous) pitch session and I think I’ve learned enough to try again. Would love to hear more…. will check out your blog to see if you posted about it!

  18. This is my first season of The Voice also. It is extremely compelling. I think you hit the nail on the head perfectly for writers. If people didn’t know who had written something, would they still want to read it. Would it be compelling enough? Do writer tend to rely too much on a known readership? And not think enough about enticing new readers? Good questions to ponder. Thanks.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and I’m happy to find another fan of The Voice! As you say, many questions to ponder as we consider the similarities with the writing choices we make. Thank you so much for the comment!