Okay, so there are some obvious differences. No former supermodel tells me if I’m “in” or I’m “out.” To my knowledge, there is no panel of people who evaluate my work from chrome-plated barstools. And I have no skill at all with a sewing machine. But in other, very significant ways, Project Runway (PR) and my life as a writer are quite similar. 'Santino' photo (c) 2007, Bit Boy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

1. Balancing Community and Independence – There is always a team challenge, and this is often where people’s genuine natures (at least their genuine natures when they’re sleep deprived and followed by a camera all the time) come out.

Writers needs community – for support, for ideas, for rejection slip burning parties – but we often we don’t play well with others. We’re edgy, competitive, and possessive of our time and ideas. We could learn from PR though and not let these things ruin our ability to talk to people without making them run to the bathroom to cry.

2. Being Ourselves And Experimenting The designers often hear the criticism “We’ve seen this from you before,” followed by something like “You should stick to your strengths.” It’s hard to know if Heidi wants them to attach feathers to everything or perhaps just make a simple A-line skirt that looks good on everyone.

We hear this about writers all the time. Why didn’t she just do what she does well – vampires and romance? How many times can HE write about bullfighting? It’s very difficult to stick to our true voices while also figuring out how to write in new ways, but we should try. It makes for better writing.

3. Taking Criticism You know the judgings that make you cringe, the ones where the designers can’t take feedback and instead spend the whole time either defending their decisions, blaming the other designers, or outright attacking the judges. No one likes those people.

Unfortunately, writers often have the same challenges. It’s easy for us to dismiss the critique we get by saying the readers didn’t understand our “vision” or insulting their intelligence. We’d be much better off to weigh the feedback carefully and implement what we can. We might just save ourselves from the dreaded dreckitude of writing (oh wait, that’s another reality show – sorry!).

4. Learning to Revise So Tim walks into the workshop and listens to what the designers say. Then, he usually offers some abstract advice about being “fashion forward” or avoiding the “circus-like feel,” advice that the designers receive in plenty of time to implement as they look at their piece again. Most don’t.

Wise writers build Tim Gunns into their writing practice and use that feedback to re-see their pieces. There’s nothing worse than hearing your piece feels like a circus and not taking to account that you have way too much going on in the story.

5. Seeing that There is a Show After the Show Anyone remember Santino? Anyone see the reunion show where they played clips of him badmouthing all the other designers? Anybody see Santino out and about in the fashion world? I’m not totally up on Fashion Week, I admit, but I imagine he made his career much more challenging with his lack of respect for his fellow designers.

It’s very easy for writers to think that it’s all about this book or this essay or this website, and in so doing, totally dismiss or disrespect the people who surround us – our friends, our family, our readers. We all have to remember there’s more to life and to writing than just what’s on the page. We should do this because being kind is what good humans do, but if that’s not enough to make us behave well, we should also do it because it’s likely to help our careers.

That’s it, folks. My rational for watching far too much reality TV. I hope you can “make it work” for you.

Anybody else feel inclined to compare mindless “reality” TV to their worklife and, thereby, justify their comment as work? See any other similarities between Project Runway and the creative life?

The winner of a copy of Bryan Allain‘s 31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo is Cate Hennessey of One Hundred a Week. Congrats, Cate.