Thursday, January 6, 2011

Writing Lessons from SURVIVOR?

Those who know me well won’t be surprised to see a post based on the CBS reality show SURVIVOR. During season #1 of SURVIVOR ten years ago, my wife exclaimed, “You should get on there. You’d be perfect!” Since that time I’ve watched each season and submitted 23 applications – without so much as a nibble of interest from the producers. But what does a TV program have to do with writing? In this particular show, I see some parallels to the writing life. 

Lesson #1 is that to survive and make it as a writer, you can’t be a quitter. In various seasons of the TV show, time and again players have opted to quit the game. They simply gave up. For various reasons that often involved weariness and discomfort, they walked away from all chances of winning a million dollars. Unfortunately, the same thing happens to aspiring writers. Very few of us pen best-sellers, and even fewer score a best seller with their first or second novel. But people who overcome the temptation to quit and move on to an easier life reap opportunities to gain a better grasp of the abilities and strategies needed for success.

Lesson #2 from the TV show is that you can’t forever hide who you are. If deep down inside a person is mean, spiteful, and vengeful or anything else, the garb of civility eventually wears thin and shows clearly in the spotlight. Writers, too, need to learn transparency. There’s no point in faking perfection in the Christian life. Only one Person in history has lived an absolutely faultless life, and that was Jesus Christ. All the rest of us have our shortcomings and struggles, so there’s no point in pretending we’ve mastered perfection. Real-life readers appreciate truthful writers who share their foibles and weaknesses and then reveal what lessons they’ve learned from them.

Lesson #3 from SURVIVOR is to not jump in without some sort of plan or strategy. Even if a plan is bare-bone basic, such as “Try to offend no one, and try to befriend everyone,” then at least it’s a strategy and not trusting in dumb luck. Writers need to plan too. Whether it’s a detailed outline or just a general sense of where you want a story to go, have a sense of direction. Don’t just plop down in front of the computer and start typing without a concrete concept of where you want to lead readers’ imaginations, or editors will vote your wandering manuscript off their desks. 

Another lesson from this reality show is that winning the prize of ultimate survivor is hard work! The challenges are literally physical and mental. Making it to the end of such a show involves solving puzzles, getting into other people’s heads (understanding their POV) and trying to master human motivation and likely reactions. The writing biz is tough work too. Simply keeping yourself seated in front of computer screen for endless hours when you can think of a hundred more enjoyable things to do can be a challenge. Add to that the need to get out and research the professions, places, and historical periods; the need to believably capture the essence of other people’s point of view; the crucial requirement to research publishers and/or literary agents to learn which ones might be interested in a your story, and you’ll have plenty of additional challenges that can make your head ache and keep you awake in bed as you try to resolve kinks in your plot. 

Without exception, those who utilize their physical and mental talents to endure to the end of the SURVIVOR game are glad that they stayed in despite obstacles and nay-sayers. And you, dear writer—you face many challenges, heartbreaks and discouraging moments in your writing career. However, if you sincerely believe that God has planted within your being a seed of literary talent, then please don’t yield to the temptation to drop out, to bury your talent in favor of some easier trade. In writing for the glory of God, you and I don’t face human opponents who wish to see our torch snuffed out to end our game. We do face, however, spiritual adversaries—the Devil and his demons—who use discouragement and distraction to lure us away from our computers. Keep on your eyes the prize—Jesus!—and stay in the writing game for Him.

P.S. For anyone curious to see my most recent entry in the latest CBS contest to find contestants for Survivor, you can view me here: 


  1. I keep hearing "It's the Eye of Survivor it's the thrill of the fight"....

  2. Rick, better you than me. I may have the mental stamina to survive the writing game, but don't ask me to do anything requiring physical stamina. (Eating bugs? Maybe. Physical challenges? Never.) Love your video, though.

  3. Great post, Rick! I'm not a diehard Survivor fan, but I enjoy watching it from time to time. Your parallels here are so true. And thanks for the encouragement at the end...I needed to hear it today.

  4. Wow, Rick. I don't like to eat bugs, so no Survivor for me! (I don't even like to look at bugs, leave alone eat them! Nature girl I'm not where bugs are concerned.)

    Enjoyed your video and post. It's true: he/she who endures to the end will reap the reward. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. WOW, Rick, how can Survivor NOT choose you this time. . . GREAT video application -- congrats! PS -- I'm a WWII survivor from China. My younger brother and I survived, but our three older brothers didn't (they are buried near Xian). Our missionary father was "drafted" by the Marine Corps to serve as a translator because of his proficiency in Chinese. So if you get on Survivor this time, I'll watch, even tho' I rarely watch Survivor. Surviving is not a "fun" concept in my life. . .