I’m not a big fan of reality TV, but one show I love and never miss is Project Runway. I get such a kick out of the artistic personalities and seeing real talent ultimately rise to the top. More than anything, though, I’m fascinated by the process of creation. If you haven’t seen Project Runway, it goes something like this: the contestants are given an assignment, such as “make an outfit appropriate for a Times Square billboard out of things you can buy in a pet store.” Then they’re given, perhaps, ten hours to complete the task. Around hour five, Tim Gunn (who is impossible not to adore!) visits the workroom to check out what everyone is doing and offer helpful comments. Then around hour six, they throw a last-minute wrench in the works, such as: “You also need to add an accessory to your outfit and it must be in the color of Heidi Klum’s lipstick,” or something equally ludicrous. (Heidi is a pip. Seriously, how does a woman keep having babies and look like that? It’s utterly beyond me).
So what does this have to do with writing? It occurred to me as I was watching Project Runway the other night that the process of creating an outfit under a tight deadline is very much like writing a book under a tight deadline. There is the “make something from nothing” element, followed by the creation of the design or in the case of a book, the structure. Then there is the execution. Then there is Tim Gunn. When Tim spent time with the designers the other night, critiquing their half-finished projects, one of them said something like “We need you because we’re too close to our work and can’t see the forest for the trees.” Tim is very good at seeing the forest, and that comment reminded me of the reason writers need editors. (Listen up, self-pubbed people! Hire one if you don’t have one).
My editor is really earning her salary as she works with me on The Midwife’s Confession. What draft am I on now? I’ve lost track. Doesn’t matter. This is the one that counts. I’d mentioned that after my editor read my complete manuscript, she wanted me to add the point of view of the late midwife herself. I knew she was right, but that required rewriting the entire book, introducing a storyline that added layers of depth to an already packed tale. I thought I was done then. I knew I’d have some tweaking to do, but I wasn’t quite prepared for my editor’s last-minute suggestion: “Now that the focus is more on the midwife, we no longer need Grace’s (the teenaged girl) point-of-view.” Ack! Once again, I knew she was right. I was so immersed in my creation that, like those Project Runway designers, I hadn’t been able to see the forest for the trees.
So that is my task for this week. It will be the final major overhaul of this book, and it’s about as easy as creating an evening gown out of rawhide chips and dog food bags. See my computer screen above? The full manuscript is on the right, the new mansucript is in the middle. And on the left are the scenes from Grace’s point of view. I am going through them to see what information she gave the reader that the reader simply must know and which I’ll therefore have to seamlessly incorporate into other characters’ points of view. Even more crucial is the need to allow Grace to remain a whole and significant character in the story without allowing her to tell the story herself. Trust me, I have quite a challenge ahead of me!
I’m getting a kick out of it, though. Whenever a book feels like a puzzle to me, it gets my juices flowing. I feel as though Tim Gunn’s paid me a visit, shaken me up a bit, and then told me to “Make it work!” So that’s what I’m up to this week. I want The Midwife’s Confession to knock ‘em dead on the runway. You won’t even be able to see where I stitched the dog food bags together.