I’m guilty. I watch reality television. Not all of it; some shows are simply a flimsy platform created for idiots in search of quick fame. I do have my favorites though, like Survivor, Amazing Race, and Project Runway. My husband rolls his eyes when I say one of those shows is about to come on. I tell him I have to watch – I am doing research. “Research? Really?” He says. “Survivor?”
Yep, a wealth of character sketches and dialogue and human dynamics on that show. Amazing Race? All the places they go and challenges they must complete are interesting details to enrich plots and settings. Project Runway? Hands down, the best place to learn about the craft of writing.
What? I hear you saying – my husband too. How can a bunch of wannabe fashion designers making dresses for models teach you anything about writing?
Let me show you what I’ve learned from watching the show:
1) In the fashion world, everything has been done before – pants, skirts, shirts, etc. The designer’s job is to make what has been done, new and fresh by mixing materials, colors, styles, etc. It is the same in the writing world. You’ll find similar themes and premises in all literature – your job is to morph what’s been done into something innovative and new through plot, setting, characters, etc.
2) The ideal in fashion is to create something clean, fresh, and sophisticated while still being wearable, new and fun. The same is true in writing. Publishers want well-written, ‘literary’ stories that will stand the test of time, but have a commercial hook that will appeal to the masses.
3) In writing like in fashion design, when we begin executing our ideas, sometimes something doesn’t work. You have to be willing to change it up, alter it, or scratch it and start over , even if it means losing something you really liked. How many fashion designers have we seen fall out of the competition because they got too attached to their idea and lost sight of the big picture? Don’t lose sight of what your goal is – if it isn’t working, take it out and save it for another project.
4) Learn to listen to yourself and others. All artists have a little voice that tells them when something isn’t right. Listen to it – don’t get lazy and ignore it. Same with professionals in your field. If people are telling you the same thing about your work, listen. Sometimes that means a major overhaul – and we tend to ignore the comments if that means the work will be hard – but don’t. Listen, listen, listen.
5) And ignore, ignore, ignore! You also have to learn to ignore yourself and others! We all doubt ourselves. Learn to recognize which voice is talking to you – your professional voice or that insecure child. Ignore the child. Same with people who mean well. You are the person who understands your vision the best. If what people are saying to you doesn’t make sense for your vision, ignore their advice. Learn to identify what is good advice and what is not.
6) Never get too cocky. Everyone has talent, but no one starts a project perfectly. When you get complacent, so does your work. Push yourself every time.
7) Even the best ideas can fall apart with the wrong choices You’ve seen it happen on Project Runway before – a safe dress costs a designer the competition because she/he chose the wrong accessories. Make sure all the pieces of your story work together.
8) Stay current, but don’t get trapped into creating yesterday’s trends. Nothing worse than writing with shoulder pads and big belts, i.e. outdated devices and dialogue. Try to stay classic while being fresh and thinking out of the box.
9) Don’t be afraid to try new things. If you think all you can make are dresses and you never try to make pants, you may be missing out on a talent you never knew you had. Don’t let the fear of using chocolate or paper napkins scare you out of the race. BE OPEN AND INNOVATIVE!
10) The most important thing I have learned from Project Runway: Don’t give up. You may be at the bottom on one project, but at the top the next. Don’t let rejection cut you out of the pack. Learn from it and move on.
And that’s what I’ve learned from Project Runway!