Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tinking, Frogging, and Knowing When To Quit

Jean! Your post really made me think about the kind of writer I am as opposed to the kind of knitter I am.

I love to revise my writing. There's nothing I like better than sitting down with the completed manuscript and ruthlessly cutting away the excess. So long "he saids" and "she saids." Goodbye redundancies. And if there's anything more fun than combining two yappy wordy chapters into one that actually says something in a (relatively) entertaining manner, I don't know what it is. I experience an actual rush of excitement when I sit down with the print-out of my manuscript, a couple of felt-tip pens (preferably Flair pens in black, blue, red, and green), and a cup of tea. Any emotional attachment I felt for the book vanishes (and that's saying something since that emotional attachment is both the blessing and bane of my existence during the writing of it) and I feel like I'm seeing the material for the first time. I love X-ing out passages, moving things around, watching it all reassemble itself into something leaner and tighter and faster-moving.

On the flip side, this is also the time when you see where you've shortchanged both yourself and the reader. Sometimes I take the easy way out the first time around and sidestep highly emotional passages that require a depth of understanding that maybe I don't have at the moment. This is my chance to jump back in and let 'er rip.

A couple of years ago I was working on CHANCES ARE and it was running long. Okay, it wasn't just running long it was running so long that after awhile I started to call it War and Peace on the Jersey Shore. A million characters who each had their own story. Lots of conflict to set up, play out, and then resolve. As I crossed the 500 page mark and then waved so long to page 600, I knew I had to warn my editor that: 1) her mailbox needed to be reinforced ASAP and 2) I fully understood that I would need to cut 100 pages or more of chaff and would do so happily and quickly.

This was one of those times when I had to write long and full-out in order to find the heart of the story and thank God I have an editor who understands that and trusts me. I'll admit the cutting process hurt a tiny bit (it usually doesn't bother me) but I did it and the story was definitely better for it.

The thing is, cutting doesn't scare me. It never has. If a chapter has to go, it goes. I might dance around it for weeks, trying to screw up the courage to do the deed, but once that odd little "this isn't working" feeling makes itself known it's only a matter of time.

Now how, you're asking, does this have anything to do with knitting? Well, I think that my ability to make deep cuts in a book is finally beginning to assert itself in my knitting. You see, I used to be The Cowardly Knitter. That's probably why I began and then abandoned so many projects over the years: plain old garden variety fear of screwing up.

Quite frankly up until the last year or two, I had neither the skills nor the confidence to repair my mistakes. One little error along the way, one dropped stitch, and it was all over. The sweater or whatever it was I was working on would be stuffed into a bottom drawer and forgotten about for a few years. Can you imagine knitting with that kind of attitude? Every stitch I knitted was fraught with peril. What if I dropped it? What if I screwed up that cable? What if I was on the last three inches of the last section of a sweater and I dropped a stitch? Yep. You're right. Buh-bye, sweater.

I said in an earlier post that I don't quite know why (although I suspect the oceans of shared information on the internet has a lot to do with it) but this time around I'm not afraid to make mistakes. It's only yarn. It isn't brain surgery or rocket science or whatever cliche you want to plug in there. If it can be done, it can be re-done correctly. I knit with a crochet hook next to me and if I drop a stitch I happily work that puppy right back up the rows and back onto the needle.

Sometimes you begin a project with high hopes only to discover that either the yarn was wrong or the instructions or your perspective on the whole thing. Stuff happens, right? You can either frog the whole thing and create something knew with the yarn or tuck it away in a bottom drawer (along with those manuscripts that didn't quite work out) and chalk it up to a learning experience.

Here's a very bad Razor Shell swatch:

And here's a (slightly) better one:

There's so much still to learn and that goes for writing and knitting!

(My apologies if the photos are out of whack. I've been fighting with Blogger for an hour now and can't make them line up properly. But, as the title says, I know when to quit!)

Barbara Bretton


Blogger Fran Baker said...

Barbara: See my comment under the Low-Fat post re the clafouti. You only want to use fresh fruit with this recipe as frozen or canned doesn't work.

4:35 PM  

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