It's both. Because for the first time, I let someone else put it together! :)
That person is one of the newest members of the 100 Weeks Club kathrynrose! I was planning on cutting and pasting some of her infamous welcome post anyway. So this worked out. ;)
If you have any further questions, that are not already covered in the FAQ, please post them in the comments and (hopefully) I will be able to answer them!
What is therealljidol?
Imagine Stephen King, Simon Cowell and Jeff Probst had a love child. It'd be a little bit scary, "a little bit pitchy dude," and every week someone would be voted off the island.
Idol is an online writing competition. Each week1 there are prompts, deadlines, polls and voting. Sometimes there are twists and turns. Most days there are posts, called Green Rooms, that function as chats, where contestants can get to know each other while our host attempts to spark controversy--err--conversation with random references to the news of the day.
Why should I participate?
Any number of reasons. Maybe you want to flex your writing muscles and dust off a skill you've not used in a while. Maybe you like the pressure of an external deadline to kick you into gear and Get. It. Written. Maybe you want to write a bunch of essays you can submit for publication. Maybe you just like to hang out with people who enjoy putting words together in creative ways.
People have done all these things through Idol. Some have shared their words with other people for the first time. Others have met their new best friend. Many have improved their writing. Pretty much everybody has had fun.2 What you get out of Idol will be unique to you, and each person who participates changes Idol for everybody.3
Oh, and the winner gets an icon.
So, How do I do this?
A sign up post will go up. When it does, write a statement on your own LJ or blog post--more on that in a minute--declaring your intent to participate, and link that declaration in a comment on the sign up post. It really is that easy.
What happens after that?
Gary posts a topic prompt and a deadline.
Everybody writes their entry and posts a link to it on the topic post.
We all read (and preferably comment on) each other's entries.
Gary posts a poll and a voting deadline.
When the poll closes, Gary announces the results.
The next topic post usually goes up within a few hours.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Does it cost anything?
Nope. It's free to play during the regular seasons, but if you'd like to contribute financially, you can make a donation through PayPal, Google Wallet, or Amazon using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Or become a patron with a monthly pledge. You can also support Idol by making an Amazon purchase through the Idol Store. Or by spreading the word about Idol through your choice of social media. You can follow therealljidol on the LJ Idol Facebook page or on twitter @therealljidol.
Thanks for whatever support you can give.
Do I have to have a LiveJournal account?
You don't, but most people will. And really, it's free and painless, and easier for you to vote and others to get to your entries. Plus, you might find you like it here. LiveJournal has quieted down from its heyday, but many of us find it's the friendliest form of social media for people who communicate in paragraphs.
If you'd still rather not, you can participate from your Open Access, Facebook, Twitter and Google accounts. Using Facebook as an example, when logged in to Facebook, go to www.therealljidol.livejournal.com, click the Facebook icon, then click "log in through Facebook" and follow log in instructions.
Writing contest? What kind of writing?
Any kind of writing. Idol started as a journal writing contest. The entries were people's journal entries and included bits about their families, jobs, and hobbies. Over time people started submitting fiction, poetry, personal essays, and other things too creative to fit into a category. All the pieces are going up against each other in the same poll, so the label you put on the style of writing is irrelevant to the contest itself.4
You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means.
Maybe not. Idol does have its own jargon. Here's a list of common Idol terms. Remember, you can always ask in the Green Room if you have a question. Folks are pretty friendly, and you're probably not the only person wondering.
'merica - A Gary-ism referring only to the apartment or house in which Gary currently lives. People who do not live in 'merica are all foreigners, and will share various attributes as defined in any given Green Room post.
"A" game - Your best possible effort. When Gary starts telling people, "Bring your 'A game,'" he is either hinting about an unexpected twist, or trying to fake people out to ramp up the adrenaline level. Check the Green Room for reactions from veterans. They won't know either, but sometimes there are additional clues to be interpreted.
Alias or alt - A user name that is not the contestant's normal LJ account. Contestants may want to keep their Idol entries separate from their main journal, compete under multiple names to try different writing styles, or get reactions to their writing without the influence of their reputation or popularity. Most start the season all secretive and incognito, but it's rare for someone to make it to the end of the season without being outed, at least to their friends. Note: Anyone participating under an alt must let Gary know via email at email@example.com.
Beta reader - A person who reads and gives feedback before an entry goes public. If you're not sure about a part of your entry, or you want to see if a character comes across the way you intended, asking a friend to read the entry before your final edits can be a big help. If you don't currently have a friend who might beta read for you, give a shout in the Green Room or Work Room. You may find a volunteer there.
Bye - A "free pass" allowing the contestant to skip a week without being eliminated. Each contestant gets a certain number of byes, which can be used any time before the Top 50 (meaning until there are only 50 contestants remaining). Some Idolers consider it a badge of honor to make it through the season without using a bye, but there's no actual extra credit for it.
Concrit - Short for "constructive criticism." Giving and receiving specific, thoughtful feedback can be a valuable learning experience. While in some writing communities concrit is expected unless the writer "opts out" or asks not to receive it, Idol doesn't have a standard feedback practice. Idolers who definitely want feedback often dedicate a comment thread on their entry asking for it. You might want to ask for specific feedback if you're working on something particular like dialogue, characterization, or hooking people with a great opening line.
Controversy - Can't we all just get along? Idolers are a diverse and opinion-packed group of wordy people, all working under the pressures of Gary-antics and deadlines. There are some disagreements that come up every season. Among them are:
- Alts - Are people hiding? Should we feel "lied to?" Does it discourage people from getting to know new people?
- Beta readers - Is it "fair" to use them. What's the difference between feedback and editing? How much is too much and when does it become a collaboration instead of a single-author piece?
- Fiction vs Nonfiction vs Poetry - Which is better/worse/more worthy? Are voters discriminating? Is one the "kiss of death?"
- Game twists and turns - Are they fair? Do they detract from the game? Are they integral to the game? Is Gary evil? (Actually, we all agree on that last one. Gary is evil.)
- Pimping/vote farming - Is it fair? Is it right? Is it out of control? Are the "best" writers winning? What is a "best" writer?
- Trigger warnings - Should they be required? Are they useful? Do they mean anything? Are they spoilery? Overused?
- What is a "good" entry? What is or isn't poetry? What about serials? What does it mean for an entry to "stand alone?"
- When is it ok to edit an entry? After it's posted but before it's linked in the topic post? Any time before the poll is posted? What if it's edited after voting begins?
- Voting - How do you decide what gets a vote? Should you vote if you haven't read every entry? Should you vote based on friendship or on each entry individually? Is it ok not to vote for an entry because the font is hard to read?
First - More often than not, the first comment on the Green Room will include the declaration, "First!" Why do we do this? We're competitive by nature. People rush to be the first to comment, and everyone congratulates them on the accomplishment. Sometimes you will see people type "Frist." This is an intentional misspelling. It may be accompanied by shouts of being dead to someone and refusal to share cookies. Don't try to figure it out and don't take it personally if it happens to you. It's an old joke that just never dies.
Footnotes - Some people use footnotes in their entries.5 Code the number for the footnote by typing (sup)1(/sup), substituting <> for the (). Do the same thing at the bottom of the entry.6 See more info down there.
Gary - The evil overlord. Gary, aka clauderainsrm is the creator and maintainer of Idol. The buck stops with him when there are questions, concerns or controversies. We talk a lot of smack about him, but he cares very deeply about Idol, which includes all the Idolers. Don't be afraid to email or message him if you need to. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gatekeepers - An invited group of experts who vote on a week's entries. Once or so a season, instead of there being a poll, Gary will invite an unidentified group of previous contestants, winners, and/or professional writer/publisher types to read the entries and vote for their favorites. It's a big deal because you can't watch a poll, you don't know who's voting, and we're usually not sure how many people will be eliminated. When the results come out, Gary identifies the Gatekeepers, and sometimes the Gatekeepers will write a post explaining the logic or process they used when voting.
Green Room - Our home away from real life. Named for the room where television stars hang out waiting to go on stage, the Green Room (abbreviated "GR") is the place where Idolers and their friends hang out and chat about whatever. In the GR you will find virtual comfy furniture, a virtual stocked kitchen, coffee maker, and bar. People may serve virtual food or beverages and/or throw virtual wadded up drafts of their Idol entries at each other. On quiet days, if you listen carefully, you may hear virtual crickets. The GR is the place to get to know your fellow Idolers. Don't be shy; jump in.
Hell week - Dun dun Dunnnnnnnnnnnn! For most of the season, one entry is expected from each contestant each week. However, there have been occasions where as many as sixteen topics were assigned, and the remaining contestants had to write a post for each of them. We call that hell week, for obvious reasons. Note: this usually happens fairly late in the season when we're down to a small number of remaining contestants.
Hippies - A Gary-ism. Gary's never defined exactly what a hippie is. I guess he knows them when he sees them. And when he sees them, he kicks them.
Home Game - An entry written by a non-contestant. Some people like to "play along" without actually competing, or after they've been eliminated, so they write posts based on the topic, and link them in the Green Room (or sometimes, if a lot of people are Home Gaming, Gary will make a special post for links to HG entries). Anyone can Home Game. Tell your friends!
Icon - Each Idol season has its own banner and participant icon. Please don't alter or personalize the Idol icon. The winner will also receive a very special icon as their sole reward7 for months of hard work and hair-pulling.
Image descriptions - A written description of a posted photo or illustration. Some of our contestants and/or voters are blind. If your entry contains images, it's a good idea to include a description beneath the image. Some people include a link to a text only version of posts that are very image heavy.
Intersections - The partnership of two or more Idol contestants for the purposes of entry-writing. Occasionally a topic will come with the instructions to find a partner and coordinate your entries. Some partners will each write a half of the same story. Some will write similar entries that fit together in another way. Hint: if you know/find someone you'd like to work with, you can pre-arrange a partnership, "Hey, if we have to do an intersection, want to be partners?" to avoid the "OMG partner grab!" when the topic post goes up.
Link - After you post your entry to your LJ or blog, you'll need to post a link to it in comments on the topic post. If you're new to linking, here's how: While looking at your saved post (not in edit mode), look at the address bar at the top of your browser. You'll find a string of characters that look like "http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/." Drag your mouse to highlight the entire string then hit CTRL-C/COMMAND-C or right-click and choose "copy." Go to the topic post, click "Leave a comment," then hit CTRL-V/COMMAND-V or right-click and paste the link. If you want to be fancy and make the link show the name of your post instead of that string of characters, type (a href="http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/")LJ Idol Home Page(/a) substituting <> for (). It will look like this: LJ Idol Home Page. Substitute your link and the name of your post.
Meta - writing your entry (or part of your entry) about writing your entry. Sometimes new contestants are tempted to begin their entries with something like, "I hated this topic, and this was all I could think of," or "It's been a really stressful week, and I wish I'd had more time to work on this and I hope I don't get voted out over it because tomorrow's my birthday..." This kind of meta introduction will hurt an entry. It tells potential voters that even you don't think your entry is worth reading. If you feel a need to write about your own doubts or frustrations with your entry, put it in a separate post, so your friends can encourage you, ask a friend for feedback, or start a thread in the Work Room asking for suggestions or inspiration.
Meta can also refer to writing about the Idol competition itself. It is possible for a "meta" post to be well-written. When people use the term, however, they're usually talking about the meta comments at the beginning of an entry.
Pimping - Advertising the polls. Part of a writer's job is to get people to read what's been written. Most polls are open to public voting, and with the addition of Facebook and Twitter voting, that includes just about everyone. It's great to tell people about Idol and encourage them to read the entries and vote for their favorites. It's not as good an idea to ask people to "go vote for me" without reading. There are as many opinions about vote pimping as there are people who answer the question, but when it comes to that week when your vote total is at the bottom, chances are you're going to do it. Note: Pimp responsibly - ask people to read.
Tip: If you want to make it easy for your friends to read and vote, you can embed the poll in your own LJ post. Do this by typing (lj-poll-12345) in the body of your post. Substitute <> for () and the number of the actual poll for the 12345.
Poll - The clicky boxes that make the numbers happen. There will be a poll at the end of each week, unless it is a Gatekeeper round or a contestant-only vote. Polls will either be open to the public or open only to people who have joined the Idol community. Poll watching is quite the popular pastime. If you want to poll watch, but haven't voted yet, you can click submit on the poll without voting for anyone, and then go in and edit the poll. To edit the poll click the Poll #12345 link, then click "Fill out poll."
Note: If you edit your votes, there is a tricky glitch in the poll you'll want to know about. Some people vote as they read, so they'll vote for part of a tribe, save it, and then go in and edit the poll to finish voting for the tribe. This is risky because sometimes when you go in to edit, the LJ gods eat all your previously recorded votes except the first one at the top of the poll. This is why even the spreadsheet-phobic should keep a list of the people they are voting for in each poll. If you don't re-vote for people when your votes get eaten, their vote count will go down when you save your edit. If you don't want to un-vote for people, make a list.
Rec List - A list of recommended reading from the week's entries. Some people post a list of links to entries they feel are really well written, and/or aren't getting the attention they deserve in the polls. It's cool to let people know when you like their work.
Rules - There are very few rules in Idol. Generally having a positive attitude and treating other people with respect covers most situations. More specifically:
1. Gary is in charge. He's open to questions and feedback (email@example.com), but he has the final word.
2. One vote per person.
3. Don't advertise or plug other organizations or communities without prior approval from Gary.
4. No comments, except links to entries, on the topic posts.
Second Chance Idol (SCI) - Several weeks into the season, there might be an opportunity for late-comers, or previously eliminated players to sign up to compete for a second chance to get into the game. The SCI topics are different and the polls are posted in a separate entry. The deadlines may also be different from those for the main game.
Special powers - Ooooh, magic! From time to time, Gary will decree that the person who meets a random criteria will be awarded a special power. We're talking about Gary, so this could be anything. Some things we have seen in the past - The ability to save someone else in a poll; the ability to save oneself in a poll; the dreaded topsy-turvy (see below); the ability to bring back an eliminated player or bring into the game a home-gamer who is not currently playing.
Spreadsheets - A handy tool for keeping up with contestants and votes. Many Idolers find it helpful to keep a spreadsheet during the season. The kinds of things you might keep track of are: names of contestants, a link to their post, whether or not you voted for them, some keywords to remember what their post was about, which week they were eliminated, etc. If you're not experienced in creating a spreadsheet and need help, keep an eye out around the time the first poll goes up. Someone will post a sample spreadsheet online that you can save and use on your computer.
Time Zones - Deadlines are posted in Eastern Standard Time (UTC -5), because that's where 'merica is. Idolers are everywhere, but Gary is in 'merica. Sometimes the Green Rooms go up in daylight hours for the other side of the globe, but the poll and posting deadlines are going to be 'merican.
Topic Posts - Where we get our marching orders. There are very few hard and fast rules in Idol, but the one that people trip over more than any other is "Only links to entries go in comments to the topic post." It's so tempting sometimes to reply to someone's comment, but Gary has to delete any random conversations that pop up in the topic comments, and that makes him cranky. We don't like Gary when he's cranky. Hint: Read the topic posts very carefully. There's a tendency to only pay attention to the big bold words, but often there are clues and instructions in the rest of the post that you won't want to miss.
Topsy Turvy - A game twist in which the person with the most votes in the poll is eliminated. There are some who believe this is wrong wrong wrong and evil, but there is no power but Gary's, so there ya go.
Tribe - A group of Idol people. Particularly in the early weeks of Idol, when there are hundreds of people competing, polls can get too cumbersome to deal with. Gary splits the contestants into tribes (using random rationale only he understands), and each tribe is listed on a separate poll. In these situations the bottom X number of people from each poll are eliminated, even if they have more votes than someone in a different poll who was X+1 from the bottom of their poll.
Trigger Warning - a brief statement of caution that an entry may contain sensitive material. If you believe your entry contains material that might be upsetting to readers, you can use a trigger warning - "TW - child abuse" at the beginning of your entry. This is a common practice in some online communities. Some readers feel the warnings can be spoilerish and detract from the experience of reading the story. Some people have compromised by adding their trigger warnings under a spoiler cut tag.
To make a spoiler cut for trigger warnings, type (lj-spoiler title="Trigger warning") Child abuse (/lj-spoiler) - substitute <> for (). It will look like this:
[Trigger warning]Child abuse
User Names - LiveJournal builds links into its user names if they're typed to look like this: clauderainsrm. People often personalize these by purchasing different graphics. If you click the graphic (the head) before the name, it will take you to that person's profile page. If you link on the name itself, it will take you to their main journal entries page. To add a user name link to your comment or post, type: (lj user="clauderainsrm") using <> instead of <>.
Veterans - Contestants who have lived through previous seasons of Idol. Ask them for help. Very few of them bite.
Vote - You can vote for an entry by clicking the box next to it on the poll. It's that easy. You can vote for as many or as few entries as you want8 based on whatever criteria you choose.
Most polls are open to the public, which means anyone can vote. Some weeks the voting will be "Community Only," which means only people who have joined the therealljidol community can vote. Occasionally the voting will be limited to current contestants only, which means contestants who have submitted an entry or taken a bye for the current week. Once a season or so, the voting is limited to Gatekeepers (see info on Gatekeepers above).
People can vote even if they don't have a LiveJournal account. As mentioned above, voters can participate from Open Access, Facebook, Twitter and Google accounts. Using Facebook as an example, when logged in to Facebook, go to www.therealljidol.livejournal.com, click the Facebook icon, then click "log in through Facebook" and follow log in instructions.
NOTE: ONE VOTE PER PERSON If you vote through your LJ account, you cannot then also vote through your twitter or facebook accounts. One body = one vote. There are few hard and fast rules in Idol. This is one of them.
Work Room - A post, similar to the Green Room, that is dedicated to discussion of the craft of writing. Use the work room to brainstorm story ideas, talk about your writing process, complain about what your characters are trying to do in your head without you, be in an environment where people don't think that last thing is cray-cray. Here writers be writers. Sometimes there's a designated person who brings a discussion topic to the room, sometimes it's completely participant-directed.
Win9 - A successful finish. At the end of the final poll, there's only going to be one person left as the winner. That person gets bragging rights and the use of an icon. But the truth is, Idol is what you make of it, and there are a lot of ways to win. If you want to get back into a regular habit of writing, and you do that through Idol, you win. If you want to create a network of writing buddies to help you through the wordless nights, and you connect with people through Idol, you win. Tip: Decide in Week 010 what a successful Idol season will look like for you and go for it.
1 In this case, the word "week" is approximate. Time is relative and entirely in Gary's hands.
2Which is the most important part. But people are people, and bring their good and bad moods and hot buttons and kneejerks to the party. It's like getting the family together for holiday dinner. Sometimes you gotta just roll your eyes and pass the mashed potatoes.
3We like to add a little bit of Zen into our FAQ experience.
4 It's undoubtedly relevant in any other context, and at some point the whole fiction vs non vs poetry discussion will occur in the Green Room.
5Like this one.
6 Note - to make the small font at the bottom, type (small) and (/small) around your text, substituting <> for ().
7Plus satisfaction. Lots of satisfaction, and their name in the sidebar.
8Sometimes, during special votes, such as contestant-only votes, Gary will limit the number of votes each person can cast in a poll. It doesn't happen often.
9 Yes, this is out of alphabetical order. We're ending on a Win here.
10Week 0 is all the stuff that happens between sign-up and the first official week. If you're reading this after Week 0, then just start now.