Tuesday, February 05, 2013

7 Ways Project Runway is like Writing (And Other Endeavors)

So, we are on the teams season of "Project Runway" and while it's early days yet, it is interesting in how the teams aspect creates both differences and more of the same.  I was also struck by how much it's like a lot of people working in this writing gig, although certainly  it is equally applicable to other life endeavours.  So, here you go. 

1. Reality competition makes such things more directly competitive.  In the world of not reality television you are not necessarily in direct competition with fellow writers or chefs or job seekers of all kinds for that matter, but sure, if there's one opening for that agent or editor then, yeah, only one of you is getting that.  So, in that sense, the one prize thing seems very similar.  Of course, there will be other opportunities, and even for the contestants that remains true too.  Some of the most successful folks from reality competitions are the ones who came in second, third, or even fifth, but managed to capitalize down the line on connections made and exposure. 

2. One or more of your fellow contestants has no idea what they signed up for.  Now, this isn't always bad.  I have ended up doing some amazing things on little more than a whim.  But one of these people has never used an unfamiliar sewing machine.  Never tried to make something in a day.  Or did, but didn't factor in that that day included shopping for fabric, conferencing with fellow contestants and doing interviews with the camera.  How's that like the other stuff?  Someone else in that agent's or editor's query pile has sent something that isn't even a genre that that person represents or edits for.  Someone else has sent a cover letter and resume riddled with errors and demonstrating none of the required skills. 

3. You think you know, but you don't.  I feel fairly certain that everyone shows up at a reality show competition sure they can do this.  Probably win even.  You can watch shows, you can practice staying up late and working at home, but there are things you cannot really plan for.  You cannot plan for your roommates, the energy of the workroom.  As anyone who's ever had a vacation go off the rails after too much togetherness knows, being good with people is not like being good with people you can only escape in the bathroom and not even then because they just followed you.  Now yes, most jobs or writerly excursions allow for alone time.  But, working with people is often different than you expect.  People you thought were totally your people turn out to have different styles, or a sunflower seed habit, or they hate email and want to do everything by phone in the middle of your lunch.  So, there are often adjustments that need to be made.

4. There will be gossip. It's everywhere.  We always like to believe we don't do it, or will come out well in the telling, but again, you cannot predict.  I have never seen a workplace or conference or coffee shop for that matter that didn't have a little going on.  Sometimes its all in fun, or you manage to stay focused and away from the fray.  Sometimes not.  Hopefully, you can at least avoid saying something that you wouldn't also say to the person.  You may think you told someone who would never tell.  You may think you checked for cameras.  But that is often not the case. 

5. Everyone who has ever watched a competitive reality show knows there are critiques.  In "Project Runway" the Tim critiques are kind of famous.  And then other contestants will have thoughts. (And with the teams aspect they will have more thoughts.)  But I think sometimes the most maddening thing about critiques is that you can address and polish based on all that early feedback and then go to the judges and kersplat.  This happens in writing, it happens in jobs where there are clients or managerial layers, it happens everywhere.  And it's frustrating.  You can try to plan for it.  Have people looks at your stuff.  Ask for honest feedback.  Get used to processing and listening, but like many things, some days the things they say will make great sense and sometimes they will harp on your use of blue. 

6. You will fail.  Seriously.  You will do something so atrocious they will threaten to kick you off.  In fact, given there have never been co-winners in the finale (yet) your chances are abysmal, like lottery ticket low, of not getting eliminated. Kristan Higgans has talked about being told in a room of writers only one in one hundred will ever publish.  That doesn't mean one in one hundred will try.  Lots of people try.  And hey, like all statistics it just means the odds are against you.  There's no way you can be a writer and never get rejected.  There's no way you'll get every job you apply for. Even once you have an agent or a job, you will still fail.  (Chipper aren't I?)  It's part of life. 

7. You will have a memorable experience.  I've told people that sometimes the point of having roommates or crappy first (second, tenth) jobs is to better clarify for yourself what you do not want.  You may not have known previously that this or that thing was a dealbreaker for you.  Now you do.  So, the one things I can guarantee for a reality show contestant, and eventually, at some point, other job and career seekers, it will be memorable.  Even if you end up being the super stable on top of it person through the whole thing, so even keeled you barely get any screen time, I feel certain that the experience of being a reality show contestant is still memorable.  And those jobs, those roommates, those aforementioned failures, good bad or ugly, you will have experiences.  It's about the only thing you can count on.