Monday, October 17, 2011

Project Runway and A Question About Craft

I'm in deep thought about Project Runway today. Thinking about one of the contestants, Anya, Miss Trinidad and Tobago, who turned to a career in fashion design. Who learned to sew something like three months before becoming a contestant on the show.

I used to work in reality television (Nanny 911, anyone?) I know that these shows tend to make up stories where there are no stories. I'll likely never know the real story. But the other contestants complain about Anya's poor construction skills. Whether it's jealousy or not (it's jealousy) they bring up valid points. 'I've been sewing all of my life,' they say. 'I've worked my tail off and dedicated myself to this craft for years and years,' they whine. And so, they are a little put off when Anya wins and her model allegedly had to be sewn into her garment because it wasn't executed properly in the first place.

But, here I am, in awe of Anya's impeccable taste, her sense of what is beautiful. She knows prints. She sees something in them no one else sees. And these models walk out in her clothes full of color and life and I drool and exclaim that I would buy every article of clothing she makes even if I would look like an absolute fool in anything high fashion.

And I wonder...

I read about these published writers, listen to them on panels, these writers, who, seemingly, wake up one day and decide 'I will write a book.' They say, 'I came up with the idea in the shower, then I wrote it in a creative frenzy in just two weeks!' Whether it's true or not (it can't be true, can it?) there is a question:

What is merely good? What is great? Does it matter if it takes a writer two weeks and a bottle of shampoo or forty years and a lot of tears over endless bottles of bourbon to write a book?

There are books that wow you with the jazz hands, that make you want to buy, buy, buy, even if they have awkward sentences and strange plot holes. And there are books that are written over time and with love, that prove the people who wrote them know their craft.

I've enjoyed both kinds of books (even if the former makes me angry). I've much more often celebrated the books that take care with language. But I do wonder about all this. Thoughts?


  1. I'm not entirely sure about Project Runway, but I do know it's possible to write a 90k first draft in two weeks - hell, in under two weeks.

    That being said - it's a first draft. That first draft will need consistency checks, voice checks, fact and tense checks, spelling and grammar checks, rephrasing and dangling participle checks etc. The list goes on. Just because they 'wrote' it in two weeks doesn't mean they pooped out a perfect manuscript. If they did, they should bottle and sell it.

    I'm the same way - I love all different kinds of books and different kinds of authors. As long as there's a resonance in the work - I believe it has appeal for someone out there.

    And at the point where it's available to buy, who really cares if it took 10 days or 10 months to write, 10 months or 10 years to polish.

    I have read books that make me angry when I wonder how they got through the editing process like this. But then I sit back and shrug it off.

    I guess those are my thoughts hehe

  2. I do like a book to be well crafted. Having said this, the story needs to grab one, too, and the characters. So I would say that the formula - story + character + language craft = the essence of a good book.

    The idea for Violet Jelly came from a jar of the same, which was given to me as a present. 'Sounds like the name of a character,' I said to myself. About a month later the ideas began to flow and I started writing. It certainly was not finished in a couple of weeks and, besides, there was the editing etc. which takes forever, plus rewriting.

    Do not be discouraged and enjoy your craft. Excuse the lengthy comment!

  3. Interesting! Honestly, I hadn't thought too much on it. I haven't read much of the first variety.

    But really, even some of those written with love don't thrill me. It comes down to taste, I suppose.

    However, I try not to think too much of other's paths to publication. I'm not them. I remind myself of this often. :)

  4. To me, it all depends on one's taste. One person's trash is another person's treasure, right? Mind you, (whisper) I think it's impossible to write novel in two weeks and for it to be good.

  5. My MIL LOVES an author who is consistantly on the NY Time Best Seller list. She cranks out novels like nobodies business. I've read a few of them, and I can't understand why so many people love them. The books make me a little angry. Because, I know the author probably can't even remember all the characters anymore. But, she knows what people want.

  6. I take language over story almost every time.

    I love a book about almost nothing that keeps me desperately reading until the end. But it's better when I can get both.

    I think it also depends on genre.
    I just read a cute little rom com that was fun, but nothing special. It was just what I was in the mood for.
    And then the next time I pick something up, I'll go for Green or Halse Anderson whose language rocks.

  7. I think you can pop out a novel (50,000 words or less) in a few weeks (as long as you have no other commitments), but I expect when it's at that point it will need fleshing out and a lot of revisions. I imagine at the end of those two weeks you have the basis for a a detailed outline.

  8. I think the problem lies in entitlement. People feel if they spend more time, cry more tears, learn more, than they are entitled to be more successful than someone who doesn't put in as much work. This is simply not true--its a incorrect idea. I think hard work is important, and it can get you far, but there is something to be said for great instincts and pure talent.

    Wow, I'm rambling today :) Great post, Melissa!