Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Confession

I don't watch a lot of TV.  Not because I have something against it, but because I simply don't have a lot of free time.  Four kids.  Two dogs.  Two cats.  Writing.  Sometimes get the picture.  Days can (and often do) go by where the TV sits quietly in the corner, waiting for someone to turn it on.  Just last week, the cable guy came by to check something--the box? the TV? I don't know--and was stunned into silence by the sight of our dusty old box TV. 

"So, you all haven't upgraded to a flat screen..." he said as if our American citizenship was now in question. 

However, despite my disconnect with the favorite American pastime, some shows suck me in.  Hello Walking Dead.  And Downton Abbey.  And...Project Runway.  I love this show.   Maybe it's watching the creative process with a visual spin.  Writing isn't tangible, but sewing is.  Often when I'm struggling with a difficult novel section, I do something creative that's tangible.  Drawing.  Painting.  Um, sewing...

A stuffed cat I made Zach for his birthday

And it helps me refocus.  Or maybe I like watching someone else suffering working to create something and finally pulling it off. 

But I suspect that while both of these reasons factor into why I like the show, I have to confess that Tim Gunn plays a huge role in the reason I like the show.  I am an unabashed Tim Gunn fan.  Every writer knows how valuable it is to have someone look at your work and give you an honest, yet kind, critique.  One of my friends calls it a gift.  Tim Gunn is brutally honest (remember the episode where he said, "Jackie Kennedy would not have camel toe?" Um yeah. Brutal.) 

And yet, his comments are never said in a way to demean the designer.  They are always meant to push them on to do their best work.  That is a great kindness.  It reminds me people I've worked with in publishing.  My agent and editor both tell me when something isn't working in my writing.  And I'm grateful for it. 

Two things I'd tell beginning writers are: 1) seek out people who will be honest with you about your work.  And 2) realize that these people are not trying to hurt you.  They are trying to make you a better writer. 

I've had students who can not get past this point.  They see every suggestion--every single one--is a personal attack.  When the truth is, people who have taken the time to review your work and honestly critique it are trying to help you.  (Sure, not everyone.  There are jerks out there.  But learn to tell the difference.  Surely not everyone is out to get you.)  Most of the time, those students will struggle to keep writing, or give up altogether.  And I hate that. Because one of the best things you can do as a writer is learn to step back and breathe when someone tells you something isn't working in your manuscript.  Then channel your inner Tim Gunn, and Make it work. 

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