By Kelly Carey
For years, I’ve watched Project Runway and Project Runway Junior for pure entertainment. But recently, I’ve realized I’m finding lessons and inspiration for my writing in these shows.
The excited itch the designers get when they sketch, and the fevered way they run around Mood collecting fabric seems familiar. I have that same feeling when an idea for a new picture book pops into my head. I sketch characters instead of hem lines, plot outlines instead of patterns, and consider setting instead of fabric. I may not possess the skill to turn yards of fabric into jaw dropping outfits, but I feel a kinship with the creative process of the Project Runway designers. That connection validates my assertion that I, like those designers, am an artist.
When the designers put their works in progress up for Tim Gunn to critique, I relate to the look of fear mixed with hope that flashes across their faces. I feel that same play of confidence and terror when I share my manuscripts with critique partners, agents, and editors. In that instant, you are as equally convinced that your work is brilliant as you are sure that it stinks. You’ll watch designers hold their breath for that first telling comment. And as I see how they react to Tim Gunn’s feedback, there is often a direct correlation to my own responses. But which responses make the most sense? Produce the best outcome?
I’m as intrigued by the designer who takes a critique at face value, rips out stitches, and starts over, as I am by the artist who holds firm with a righteous commitment to their design decisions. As writers, we have to assess which bits of feedback require a revision, and which we can ignore. Do we cave in to criticism too quickly and scrap good ideas? Or, do we defend too staunchly and miss the message crit partners are making? You can evaluate your own attitude toward criticism from the comfy voyeur couch and perhaps, in the words of my fellow blogger Amanda, you will conclude that it is “always the people with the humble and teachable heart who make it to the end”. Those designers who accept criticism with an open mind and a willingness to learn are often the most successful.
But, despite how open hearted and humble we are, negative feedback, no matter how constructive, has the ability to rattle our confidence. You can see that as the designers react to unflattering comments from Tim Gunn and the judging panel. It’s fascinating to watch what happens to the designer and the design process when it is interrupted by criticism. I find solidarity in the anguish of designers whose work is trashed and courage in the fortitude of designers who persevere despite a poor critique. As writers, we can easily be knocked off course by a rejection letter. But, if you watch an episode of Project Runway, you will applaud those designers who keep plugging, who take a cleansing breath and keep creating. And to those who take in the feedback and use it to learn and grow. Often, you will see that a challenge or two later they are reveling in praise. In cheering for them, you will be cheering for yourself.
There are so many connections between your writing and Project Runway. When Tim Gunn and the judges say “is this you as a designer?” you’ll know they are talking about voice. Is your manuscript reflective of who you are as a writer? Are you in your manuscript?
When the designers can tell the judges, with great detail, about the person they are designing for and where the garment would be worn, the garment is almost always stronger. In writing, you know this is about character and setting and about knowing your reader. You might jump up off the couch and scream, “I know just what you mean!” and it will be inspiring.
Watching Project Runway has helped me to recognize that I can find inspiration and courage in the journey of artists who work in different mediums. It has given me a mirror from which to judge my own creative process, and my own response to feedback, and I am a better writer for it.
And really, if you need a relaxing way to improve your craft – what could be more fun than an episode of Project Runway?
by Francine Puckly
I have been a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers for 27 years. Recently at our weekly meeting, a member who has endured several bumps and challenges in her year-long journey shared this story.
Her husband asked if she planned to attend the group meeting the next morning. She said, yes, she did. He said, “It takes a lot of your time, doesn’t it?” She thought about the diligence required for the food and exercise journaling as well as preparation of wholesome, nutritious meals, and responded, “Yes. Yes, it does.” To which he said, “It’s been an entire year. I’m not really seeing much of a difference.”
We gasped, cried out with indignation, and offered to knock out his front teeth, amongst other things. But she was steady in her response and her belief in herself. “I told him—‘Look at you. You joined Weight Watchers with me, lost 45 pounds, quit going to meetings, and proceeded to gain 75 pounds. Imagine where I’d be if I had given up!’”
Her story struck a chord with me from a writing standpoint. (It was more like a slap across the face, actually.) This week as I prepared to attend the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, an event that marks my tenth year on the writing journey, a little voice inside my head whispered, “I’m not really seeing much of a difference here.” Another conference. Another year that came and went without a publishing contract.
To the outside world, by traditional measures of success, there have been no visible changes to my writing experience. I’m still the woman without a ‘real job.’ I have no steady income. People aren’t lining up to get my autograph. Yet every year I remain optimistic and think, “This is my year.” But every year so far has not been my year. When you hope and dream for recognition of your effort, it’s easy to start thinking that you’re wasting your time.
I applaud my Weight Watcher friend who shouts to the world, “Hey! Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that change isn’t happening!” I have decided that I, too, will adopt her stubbornness and choose to evaluate my progress on a different scale. In doing so, I realize there are a great many steps I’ve made toward success. My characters, plot, dialogue, and settings are far more refined and polished than they were ten years ago. I am consistently blogging and offering thoughts and advice to colleagues in the writing world. I have developed a handful of presentations and taught a workshop at a regional writing conference. I designed and posted a new website. I have completed three full-length novels which included numerous drafts each. And even more importantly, I’ve made lifelong friends along the way.
So, no. I haven’t achieved success by the traditional measures. Yet.
But we do not have to accept that a publishing contract is the only thing that defines our success. We must celebrate the development of the writer, not just the final product.
One of my favorite quotes is from Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief. “It’s much easier, she realized, to be on the verge of something than to actually be it. This would still take time.”
Those words ring true for the artist. Because imagine where we’d be if we had given up.
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