Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What I Learned About Writing From

Project Runway

I know.  I know.  It's not even about writing.  It's a reality show about fashion design.  I warned you in the first post that I'd be taking inspiration from lots of different places. 

The big thing is that it's about creating something.  Creating something that will help you achieve your dream.  I think that fits.

1)  Work to your strengths

Every week the contestants are given different challenges--make a prom dress to a sixteen-year-old's specifications, design an outfit using only items you can find at a hardware store, dress a drag queen or design the best resort outfit you can.  No matter how far out the challenge, the outcome is supposed to be a garment that could be sent down a fashion runway.

The designers who do well are those who know their strengths and weaknesses, and work to their strengths.  Especially on the wackier challenges. 

We all want to do it all well.  But let's face it, we all have something that stands out about our writing.  Why not play that up?  Yes, I work on strengthening my plotting, but I don't forget about character building and dialogue.

2)  But that doesn't mean you can't stretch

"I don't do menswear."  Or gowns, or resort wear, or whatever.  That doesn't cut it on the runway.  When you're given a challenge, you either perform or go home.

As writers, we're lucky.  We can write whatever we want.  No one is standing over us demanding, "Write a steampunk romance set in the old West."  At least, not once we get out of school.  But it certainly doesn't hurt to stretch ourselves a bit.

Can I add a little more humor to your stories?  More romance, mystery?  I've tried using a setting that I have to research, that I'm not familiar with.  I've found that I enjoy it.

3)  Don't repeat yourself

Too often, good designers get stuck.  The judges all loved the dress with the intricately folded fabric detail.  Then the next week the designer sends out a jacket with folded fabric, then slacks, etc.  It gets old fast.

We've all seen it happen with books.  Series can be especially susceptible.  I know I revisit certain themes, but I really try to beware of characters and situations becoming cookie cutter.

4)  You are responsible for your own work

As with most reality shows, there is a confessional type camera that films each individual talking behind the scenes.  Gloating, backstabbing or whining. 

Last season, one of the contestants complained to the camera.  "How do I get the judges to appreciate my brilliant designs?" 

Can you find the problem in that question?  She put all the responsibility on the judges.  What she should have asked was, "How can I improve my designs so I can impress the judges?". 

It's hard to accept criticism.  To hear that maybe we're lacking.  Much easier to blame the critic.  They just don't get it.  I'm trying very hard to listen to critics, really listen and determine how I can take that criticism and improve.