Okay, I admit it. I love reality TV competition shows. Project Runway, Top Chef, Work of Art, The Voice, 24-Hour Catwalk – anything that forces creative people to compete with each other under extreme pressure and turn out sometimes wonderful, sometimes awful creations. So what, you may ask, does that have to do with writing? More than you might think.
- Pressure aids creativity. Week after week, contestants in these shows turn out some amazing work, whether it’s a fabulous ballgown constructed overnight or a four-course dinner whipped up in an afternoon. Could the work be better if they had more time? Maybe – but sometimes the magic happens because they have less time to second-guess their first creative instincts and simply go with their impulse. That doesn’t mean there is no place for editing – but it does mean that the first ideas are often the freshest. I’ve found with writing that I can create some of my best work under high-pressure situations like NaNoWriMo – as long as I edit later.
- All creative artists can get blocked, and most blocks come from fear. Writers talk about writer’s block as if only they get stuck in the middle of their creative process. But all creative artists get blocked from time to time, and, I think, for the same core reason – fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of revealing too much of themselves in their work…the reasons go on and on. But the solution seems to be the same – stop thinking and act. When you only have a day to complete a three outfit collection on 24 Hour Catwalk, there’s no time for “designer’s block.” You have to face your fear and do your best work, as one designer did in a recent episode, or lose. What I learned from this example is to not shy away from facing my own fear when I feel blocked in my writing – face it head on instead. Write and keep writing, and the block with lift.
- Don’t jam all your ideas in one piece of work. Several years ago, a remark from Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn had a profound effect on my writing. While counseling a contestant on a particularly overwrought garment, he mentioned that it is a common failing of new fashion designers to put every big idea into their first major piece of work, creating “a hot mess.” A little light bulb went off in my head – I had been doing the same thing with my first novel, jamming all my concepts for the series into it until it was bursting at the seams. I was able to save that book by identifying what would make it a great stand-alone novel and taking everything else out, saving those elements for the follow-ups.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s interesting to watch the success of the contestants who are always watching the competition vs. the ones who are only listening to their inner voices (and maybe the occasional comment from a judge). While everybody on these shows must be a little nervous on how they compare creatively to others, I rarely see the ones who are obsessed with these comparisons succeeding. Instead, the winners are almost always the people who follow their own vision, even when I don’t always see it or appreciate it. The lesson for me is to not worry so much about what other writers are doing, about their successes or failures, or about publishing trends. Just follow my own vision and be true to it, even when other people don’t always get it. Whether I win or lose the publishing game, I know I’ll have done my best by being true to myself.
Do you watch reality TV shows? Do you think they help your writing, and how?