Every Thursday evening I watch ‘Project Runway,’ a competition between fashion designers. Yes, a reality TV show. Can I claim its worth by arguing its creative edge?

Each week contestants flail, cry, whine, roll their eyes at other contestants, say nice things and mean things: ‘He just can’t sew,’  ‘She has no design aesthetic.’ At the end of each episode, one designer wins the prescribed challenge with the stunning model Heidi Klum announcing, ‘Congratulations, you are the winner of this challenge.’ The loser then bids farewell to the German beauty with the obligatory two-cheeked European kiss and her famous exit line, ‘auf wiedersehen.’ Returning backstage, the loser is told to clean up his or her workspace and is given a big hug by the well dressed, well groomed, father-figure, fashion savvy Tim Gunn.   

The process of design — each demanding stage, the small successes, the dead ends, the questioning of one’s aesthetics and expertise — is much the same as writing or any other artistic medium, for that matter. The writer-artist tinkers with style, changes format, adds detail, or starts anew. He regularly questions his ability but some days is cautiously optimistic.  

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On ‘Project Runway’ each contestant begins his or her design by staring blankly at the vacant screen of a HP TouchSmart notebook. But then magic happens. Lines, circles, and swirls all mesh together to form an innovative piece of artwork, the end product resulting in a black, sexy bathing suit or a free-flowing, wide-legged pant.    

In writing, much like creating and sewing a pattern, you begin with an idea or a one-liner or a title that sticks in your head (like this article’s title). Eventually you sit down with your journal or keyboard and write or tap out a few lines and think, ‘Hey, there might be something here.’ Words turn into sentences then into paragraphs and an artistic arrangement begins to form. All of a sudden the oil spill, not the infamous Exxon Valdez or BP tragedies, but the one close to home that no one will clean up, is gnawing at you and you find yourself madly scribbling the word ‘injustice.’ When considering your divorce, you dig deep down to find just the right words to aptly express your anger, ‘Are you kidding me, after all these years?’  As tears fall onto the page, you realize the smeared letters are the story. A soldier is celebrated who returns from Iraq and is asked, ‘Are you a different person now?’ You wonder at the stark inquisitiveness and the insensitivity of such a question. Of course he’s different, you write, he will never be the same.  

‘Congratulations, you are the winner of this challenge,’ Heidi announces. ‘Your design was fresh; classy, yet hip. The execution was flawless, every seam perfect, every detail punctuated. Good job.’ Or ‘I’m sorry, but there is no excitement to the piece. You need to step it up a notch.’

Praise, criticism, it’s all good. You learn either way. What always helps is a muse or someone who believes in you; all you really need is Tim Gunn. To have that gentle spirit of a man put his hand on your shoulder, look you straight in the eyes and say, ‘I have confidence in you. I know you can do it,’ is enough. ‘Make it work,’ Gunn usually declares, his spectacles dropped to mid ridge of his nose, one fist placed thoughtfully to his chin like Rodin’s ‘The Thinker.’ Gunn pushes each designer to face his strengths and weaknesses, but he always does so with an encouraging tone. Before he leaves the workroom he always hails one last bit of advice:  ‘Work, work, work.’ We can’t deny that isn’t necessary, too, in the scheme of things, the scheme of our designs.   

~ Eve Quesnel, Moonshine Ink

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