Everything I Know About Writing, I Learned from Tim Gunn

Not too long ago I was able to hear Tim Gunn from Project Runway speak at a local college. I found him to be exactly as I expected-articulate, captivating, and engaging.  I left the auditorium a bigger fan than I had been before.

I would love to have Tim Gunn as my mentor. The big problem with that is that I can barely sew on a button. In fact, the likelihood of me making it to Project Runway is roughly equal to the likelihood that monk robes worn with combat boots will come into fashion.  (If they do, you heard it here first.)

 As I’ve watched Project Runway this season, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to suffer through the stress and anguish of a reality show for Tim Gunn to be my mentor-a lot of his advice can apply to writing as well as fashion.  I’m using these Tim Gunnisms to help my story be articulate, captivating, and engaging. 

  • A good designer can mix fabrics.  Translation: Stories can cross genres. Don’t be afraid to throw a little Romance into your Sci-Fi, or some Mystery into your Horror story.  Your story will be broader and richer for it.  But be careful-throwing a plaid with a polka dot with a floral could end up looking “bag lady” if you’re not careful.
  • Raw edges can be beautiful when done in the correct way.  Translation: Often times the best scenes are full of raw emotion. Those can be the hardest to write, but when you “get it” you know. If you’re wiping the tears as you type, then your readers are likely going to wipe them as they read.
  • Step back and look at your garment; know when to edit.  Translation: Know when to edit.  It’s not always easy to remove a great scene or snippy piece of dialogue.  But if it isn’t necessary to move the plot along, cut it out with a big ole’ pair of scissors. Keep the readers engaged, not bored with unnecessary detail and wandering plots.  (Save those little snippets that you cut in a remnant file and use them as embellishments in future stories.)
  • Move elements on your garment to other places to enhance the look.  Translation: Be flexible with your scenes.  Don’t be afraid to move things around to find the best way to tell your story.
  • Use the accessory wall thoughtfully.  Translation: Too many bells and whistles and gold cobra arm bands can confuse your readers and throw your story out of balance.  I wrote a scene for my WIP that involved a crazy man, a pit full of pointed sticks, a ninja move by my protagonist, and a first kiss.  Was the scene awesome? Of course. Was it necessary? See also: Know when to edit.

 Creating a story is like designing a garment-start with a fantastic fabric (story premise), make a pattern (plot), then stitch together great dress (write your story), finish the hem (polish and edit), let the stylists design the perfect look (work with editors, agents and publishers),and send it down the runway (publish your story).

 Now in the words of my mentor, Tim Gunn,  “Make it work!”


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