Want to Get Over Your Fear of Writing? Watch Project Runway.
We rarely promote reality TV, but in this case, we're willing to make an exception. Sure, Project Runway is full of eccentric personalities, cat fights, and drama; but the process of fashion design on this show is eerily similar to our basic writing process, which is what we'll be discussing here. So without further ado, here's how Project Runway teaches you to be a better writer:
1. Put a time constraint on your deliverable.
That's right. You need a deadline to get your ass moving. Project Runway is great at this, often giving their designers two days or even one evening to complete a piece. It may sound insane to build something out of nothing in such a short amount of time, but somehow these designers accomplish this Herculean effort in almost every episode - and so can you. Set a deadline, and not a generous one. Really make yourself sweat. Find that sweet spot between "I have plenty of time" and "Holy shit, how am I going to get this done?!" Even if you're absolutely terrified of the blank page, that deadline will force you to put something down - even if it's shit. (And shit can always be fixed.)
After receiving their assignment and deadline from Tim Gunn, the designers are given a moment to sketch their idea. For them, this means figuring out a concept of what they think they'll be able to make in the time allowed that will be good enough to keep them in the competition. You want to embrace that mindset. So, when you first come up with an idea of something you'd like to write about, or first receive your writing assignment, take a moment to jot down anything and everything that comes to mind. These ideas can be off-the-wall bonkers, or as simple as determining a vibe you want the piece to have. Just throw everything you can at the blank page, and don't worry about sounding insane or disorganized or downright crazy. You're the only person who will see this, and it's a tool for you to access your thoughts. Don't forget, creativity is super messy, so play with your words, shuffle your ideas, and get down and dirty with whatever pops into your mind.
3. Get your fabric.
In the case of Project Runway, they get to go to the fabric store, Mood, and pet Swatch. In your case, fabric is more of an ethereal thing. This would be your research, data, background information, any specific words that need to be included for SEO, anecdotes, relevant case studies, stories, etc. Anything that can help you support whatever argument you'll be making in the piece is fabric, basically. And if you'll need to include citations or footnotes, be sure to format those now, because once you start writing, you're not gonna want to deal with that shit. So, run, run, run, grab everything you need, because we're heading back to the studio to work!
4. Do a rough cut in muslin.
OK, so, designer term: muslin is a cheap cotton fabric that's great for doing a mockup of a design to test fit before you cut into your expensive materials. For a writer, this is your rough draft. If you have an outline you're generating - this would be the content you shove in between bullet points. Or, if you're eager to just dive right in, this would be that first draft that's super sloppy, rambly (is that even a word?), and all over the place. Really, this draft is designed to help you get your bearings, maybe discover some interesting statements or sentences you can recycle, and test to see if this idea or concept of yours can actually work.
5. Build your actual piece.
This is where you start to construct your actual draft. You've got all of your materials, you've played around with your argument and structure, and now all you need to do is open a document and get to construction. By now, you should be able to get into a nice work flow, where you're just letting the words pour out of you and onto the page. You should know what you plan to do, how you're going to do it, and what you need to say. If you're still getting blocked, imagine you're talking to your target audience, and just keep it conversational and to-the-point. And if you're really, really stuck, find a friend or colleague who can be your Tim Gunn and give you an outsider's perspective. But no excuses! You're racing against the clock, and something better be on that page when time is up.
6. Polish. Polish like a motherf#cker.
OK, by now you've got a constructed "garment." The only problem? There are loose threads that need to be trimmed, hems that need to be finished, and fabrics that need to be steamed. Now is the time to do anything and everything to get this thing ready for the runway. So go over your document with a fine tooth comb. Check every comma, semicolon, period, etc. Read your piece out loud and make sure it's smooth. If you hit any snags, or a sentence seems to last forever, you need to edit. Review, revise, rewrite - do whatever you've got to do to make this thing shine. Read it out loud again, maybe even two or three more times if you can, checking every little pause. If you run out of breath, if you get tongue tied, if you get confused - fix it. The clock is ticking, and this thing needs to be finished.
7. Ship! (Whether you're ready for the runway or not.)
Yes, that's right, ship that thing. Send it out into the world, the consequences be damned. As a writer, you have to learn to ship, even if you're uncomfortable - because guess what? You'll never be 100% comfortable with whatever it is you write. There will always something that seems wiggy, or bugs you, or feels out of place - but you have to ship. And no matter what happens, you'll learn from the experience and it will make you a better writer in the long run. So be brave, dig deep, and "make it work people!"