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Why Tim Gunn says “make it work” and how to apply this to writing (and other solopro projects)


While recovering from surgery this summer, zonked out on strong pain prescriptions, I immersed myself in reality TV shows I had seldom watched before.

One of my favorites is Project Runway, in which a panel of clothing designers is whittled down to a single winner during weeks of unusual design challenges. My favorite star of the program is Tim Gunn, now Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne and formerly of Parsons The New School for Design.

Tim is totally endearing because in a TV format structured around cattiness, competition and criticism, he gives contestants perceptive, professional and supportive guidance.

He has several catch phrases with which he closes his conversation with a competitor before working his way around the workroom to other individuals, and one of his frequent refrains is “make it work.”

I am now reading his highly entertaining book, A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style, in which he explains the significance of this phrase.

Tim originated it years ago when teaching at Parsons. He observed that students who were challenged by a clothing assignment were quick to scrap it and start with a new idea.

Writes Tim:

This practice unnerves me, because it’s like playing roulette with one’s work. What assurance does one have that the next spin of the wheel will be successful? Important learning occurs when a struggle is examined and analyzed, diagnosed, and a prescription offered.

I discovered the same thing back in junior high when I would deliberate over topics for English-class writing projects. Every idea would sound horrible. If it resonated with me, it wasn’t cooool enough to read in front of class. If it was sufficiently bland that it would not reveal anything about me, then writing it would be boring. And most every idea was instantly discarded as stupid, since everything is stupid at that age.

Creative writing assignments took forever and I always ended up writing a poem about spring.

Actually, it worked pretty well. I was a sensitive, introverted kid and no one was interested enough in my writing to tease or heckle me.

On the other hand, I grew up thinking I must not be very creative if I had so much trouble thinking of something to write about.

The takeaway from my school experience is that you can save a lot of time by picking a single topic fast and carrying through on it rather than testing and quickly abandoning zillions of topics.

If I were to re-take school, I’d dash off my a-a-b-b (that’s the rhyme scheme) poem about flowers in spring while watching The Mickey Mouse Club, pack it up in my school bag before dinner and forget about it.

Now that I’m older and doing what I want to do, I quickly think of a subject that interests me. I almost always stick with my first idea and get it written.

So that’s why I don’t require forever and a day to write this article . . . and how I free up time for Project Runway.



Originally posted 8-3-11

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