Friday, August 28, 2009

The Same Amount Of Time

Project Runway is back. As is a new season of Top Chef. And watching them, I realized something. It takes just as long to make an ugly dress or an awful meal as it does a winner.

I think we, as writers, tend to dismiss bad writing as something that was just "dashed off." No real effort went into it. But that's not the case. Not always. Think about workshops or critique groups you've been in. There seems to be that one person. You know the one. Intense. Focused on their story, or character. They've been working on this manuscript for years. Honing. Reworking. And it's bad. It's really bad. Oh, there may be some redeeming value. He writes good dialogue. Or she can give you a wonderful love scene. But the characters are flat and the situations are trite. There's no music in the writing. You'd rather stick hot pokers in your eyes than read another submission from these people.

But they work at it. They spend a lot of time on their stories. So it's not laziness. I don't think it's lack of talent, whatever that is. So what is it?

Attitude. That "I know better than everyone else" attitude. The unwillingness to even listen to a different opinion. When you've got a Tim Gunn in the room, people, listen up. Because if you listen, he's not telling you to sell out or be just like everyone else. He's saying to step back and really look at what you're doing.

There have been so many people on these shows who are eliminated in early rounds, because they refuse to listen. Their attitude is that everyone else is stupid. If everyone else was just smarter or cooler or more refined, then this person would win the whole shebang. And when they leave, the parting words are usually along the lines of, "At least I didn't compromise my vision." Okay. If that's what is important to you, than go for it. But realize that people wear clothes that make them look good. We eat food that tastes good. And we read books about complex characters in interesting situations.

Now, I'm not saying that a writer should take every suggestion that comes his or her way. No more than a chef or a designer should. That would be crazy. But have a good reason for why you're doing something in a particular way. Be able to defend it with something more than, "because I want to do it that way."

So, if you're going to spend the time anyway, why not write a good book? And listen to your Tim Gunns.