If you ever want to give a teenage European girl a gift, record season two or whatever you can get of season three of Bravo's television reality show Project Runway on DVD and smuggle it into her country. She will scream, weep, call you Goddess and then lock herself in her room with her best friends to watch it for two or three days.
So my European teenager's father wouldn't throttle me, I sat down and watched two episodes of the show. The premise is the usual reality TV schtick: assemble a group, offer a fabulous prize, throw them in an impossibly stressful situation, see how well they perform, and insult and eliminate them one by one until you whittle down to the final survivor.
You may think, eh, fashion, how hard could it be? But it's brutal stuff on a number of levels. As a pretty decent seamstress myself, I got caught up in the challenges and the constructions -- do you know how incredibly good you have to be to design, choose material for, piece, sew, fit and alter a high fashion garment in two days on a hundred dollar budget? -- but the contestant infighting got annoying and the elimination process broke my heart. The thrill of seeing someone fail and get kicked off is the big draw of these shows, but oy. I couldn't take it after the second episode. I'm now also convinced that PR judge Nina Garcia is the secret inspiration for the boss from hell in The Devil Wears Prada.
Watching Project Runway made me think about a reality novelists show (not the fake Book Millionaire thing, but the real deal.) When you pursue getting your work into print, it's like auditioning for Project Publication. Editors and publishers are the judges, and you're competing against a nation of other writers who range from God Awful Knockoff Artists to Future Pulitzer Prize Winners. Signing that first contract is being accepted into a very large group of first-round contestants.
As with the designers on Project Runway, a lot of writers get into the game for that fabulous prize, only to choke, change their minds, squander their materials and time or otherwise fail to deliver. To be fair, the stress, raw nerves and intimidation factors in publishing can be just as brutal as marching a model in a magenta leather/chiffon evening gown out on a runway in front of Mean Nina. Writers who go with safe instead of innovative, cautious instead of daring, or try to suck up to the judges by coping attitude or cloning other, more successful writers generally don't last more than one or two rounds. Experience and longevity don't protect you either. Every time you put a book on the market, you're back to square one.
In publishing, like high fashion, everything has been done. And everything can be done again, updated, given a fresh look, taken to a whole new level or turned inside out. The possibilities are endless. Whatever reality show you audition for, what matters is what you produce. It's got to impress judges who make it their business and really have seen it all. The only thing they haven't seen is what you can do with it. Make every walk in front of them count.