Back to the Drawing Board

Make-it-WorkMy name is Amy and I love reality television. There, I said it out loud. When you decide what to watch first on your DVR based on what you would be most embarrassed by if anyone saw it…well, you know you have a problem. One of my favorites is Project Runway. I love watching their creative process! One contestant plans and sketches precisely, while another decides to “let the fabric speak to him.” They cut and they sew, they line and they drape. They make clothes out of jump-ropes and flowers and nails, and they do it all in an extremely limited time frame. Tim Gunn, their mentor, is constantly telling them to “make it work,” and I am always blown away by what they are able to accomplish. But my favorite moments are when they get a critique that sends them back to the drawing board. This is the moment where we really get to see what they are made of. Short on time and fabric, will they make it work? Will they start over? Or will they give up?

In my new picture book, SOPHIE’S ANIMAL PARADE, we meet a little girl who is having a “make it work,” moment. Everything she draws comes to life, and she is looking for a new friend. But every friend she draws has some sort of complaint about being in her room, and she can’t seem to get it quite right. The polar bear is too warm, the giraffe is too tall, the duck needs to swim, and soon, things get a little wild in Sophie’s world. As writers and illustrators, I’m sure we can relate to Sophie. We get sent back to the drawing board on our work, and as soon as we fix one thing, another thing pops up as a problem. We try to “make it work,” but something is still not working. And this is the moment we really get to see what we are made of as artists. Will we make it work? Will we start over? Or will we give up?

sophie chaosMy name is Amy and I am a perfectionist. (Anyone who has been to my house can just shush up right now…yes, I know the handprint-littered walls, juice-stained carpets, and laundry-lined hallways tell a different story…but that is a post for another time.) I have written about perfectionism before. I have lashed out at it for stealing the fun, condemned it for stunting my growth, tried to exorcise it from my life completely. But right now, I want to talk about the upside of perfectionism. Because the truth is that when it comes to writing and submitting our work, perfectionism doesn’t always play the bad guy.

Sometimes, perfectionism can be the voice of wisdom. It says, “This story isn’t quite there yet,” when your story really isn’t there. It says, “Set it aside for a week and then look at it one more time,” when something still feels off. It says, “Back to the drawing board!” when your first-person POV isn’t working. Having to go back to the drawing board can be discouraging. But chances are, if you feel that something isn’t quite right, then any agent or editor you send it to is going to feel the same way. They’re going to see that the polar bear is sweating profusely and the giraffe has a neck cramp and the duck is dehydrated. They are going to see, and quickly, that you were unable to “make it work!”

So what do we do? The answer is simple. There are times that we need to listen to that perfectionist voice and wait. The good news is that this is not Project Runway. We do not have to send our work out onto the runway in less than 24 hours. We don’t have to let Nina Garcia and Michael Kors see our pleated wool herringbone masterpiece of a garment until it is ready. We have the luxury of time. So embrace it. Rewrite that scene in 3rd person, just to see if it might work. Give that dialogue a week to marinate, to see if it still feels authentic. And, like Sophie, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board. If you think an elephant might do the job, then try an elephant. It might turn out to be a colossal mess, but every failed attempt gets us one step closer to making it work.

To celebrate the release of my new picture book (today!), SOPHIE’S ANIMAL PARADE, I’m giving away a signed copy! Just comment here, telling me what your favorite “guilty pleasure” TV show is before Sunday, May 10th at noon PST and you’ll be entered to win!

43 thoughts on “Back to the Drawing Board

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  1. I’ve never seen Project Runway. But my guilty pleasure is The Amazing Race. Of course, it’s probably a lot less fun when you’re actually in it and sleep deprived, time zone shifted etc.

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  2. Happy pub day! *^*^*^*^ (tosses confetti) *^*^*^*^*^*^*

    My TV options are limited to what our rabbit ears will pull in when the weather is clear, but I love watching Downton Abbey with glass of grappa and a roaring fire.

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  3. Congratulations, Amy! What a wonderful feeling! (I’m looking forward to having it one day) 🙂

    My guilty pleasure TV show would be “Wipeout” – wild but safe…

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  4. Congratulations, Amy! I look forward to buying my copy of your new book. I am always looking for that “make it work” moment.

    My guilty pleasure is watching the Scott brothers work their magic on renovations 🙂

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  5. What a great post, Amy! And very timely for me, since I’ve gone back to the drawing board this week on a PB dummy I thought soon would be ready to go. There was something nagging at me and I’ve decided to redo a few of the illustrations…reading your words this morning is such wonderful confirmation that I’m doing the right thing! Thank you! 🙂

    Oh, and Project Runway is my favorite reality show too. But I return to FRIENDS re-runs more than anything else!

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  6. Thank you for putting into words why I “knew” watching Project Runway was not a waste of time. For me, it is a tie with Top Chef. (Those time limits sometimes leave me anxious.) I didn’t realize it is a creative connection.

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  7. I love this post! I’m going to print MAKE IT WORK in big letters and hang it over my desk for those moments when I want to give up! I’ve only seen one season of Project Runway but I really liked it– it’s one of the reality shows I do like. My guily pleasure TV shows are certain police procedurals like The Closer and I recently got hooked on Justified. Guess I like to see them getting the bad guys!

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    1. I used to watch those shows years ago and then I had kids and got all sensitive about it. Like everything on the show now, surely, was going to happen to me. Having kids made me soft!

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  8. Congratulations! I rarely watch tv, but when I do, it’s most likely Project Runway! Is there a new season coming up…?

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  9. Thanks for the fun post. Project Runway is our guilty pleasure too. The kids and I actually play Project Bear Runway with the Care Bear collection that resides in the house. A little tape and some glue and we’re off! Tim’s our favorite!

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  10. Thanks, Amy. Sometimes it is hard to know when to tell the perfectionist to hush. 🙂 Because, as we know, there is no such thing as perfect. Even so, that perfectionist keeps questioning. Darn her! 🙂 Thank God for critique partners who may or may not validate our gut feelings. I don’t really watch TV, but I do still tune into American Idol when my kids watch it. Other than that, it’s a very occasional movie. That perfectionist…she keeps me busy!

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  11. I love this line: “every failed attempt gets us one step closer to making it work.” Thank you for reminding me of that. Dancing with the Stars is my guilty pleasure and Glee and The Voice and and and…

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  12. Congratulations on your book. It sounds totally adorable!

    I don’t watch much TV, but I do love Once Upon a Time, even though lately it has been reminding me a little bit of those soaps I used to watch with my mother.

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  13. Great post full of excellent advice, Amy! Congratulations on the new book – it’s wonderful! (yes I have a copy :)) And I have never watched Project Runway, but I do like Chopped and my daughters are big fans of Say Yes To The Dress 🙂

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