Friday, August 11, 2006

The Thing About Writing (and Knitting)

A mistake from the Summer of 2003. We call it "The Octopus." Eight feet across of truly bad crocheting. It was supposed to be a pinwheel baby blanket, maybe 36" across. You know when they say you should check your gauge? They're right.

I like to doodle with my knitting. There's probably a more knitterly way to describe the process but "doodle" seems to be the best I can do at two in the morning.

My idea of a fun summer afternoon is to grab whatever yarn is handy, a decent size circ, and just play. Sometimes I'll spend an hour or two experimenting with different cast-ons. Sometimes it's a cable pattern that has my attention. One Saturday earlier this year I spent an entire day trying to master toe-up cast-ons that didn't look like hangman's nooses and the mystery of the double wrap.

I was poking around Knitty yesterday and came across Judy's Magic Toe-Up Cast-On and of course I had to give it a try. Now I'm what I call spatially dyslectic. (Again, there may be a better term for it but it's two a.m. blah blah blah.) I don't see things quite the way you see them. You immediately see and understand the relationship between the right side of an object and the left side. The phrase "mirror image" doesn't strike fear in your heart. When you encounter directions that say, "Reverse directions for the left side" you probably don't want to fling yourself into traffic. I had a bit of a problem the first time I tried Judy's Magic Cast-On but succeeded the second time.

You see, I have another problem. I tend to make things more complicated than they are. (Or should be.) I over-think, as it were, which strangely enough sometimes makes it look like I don't think at all. But yesterday my hands picked up on what they were supposed to do before my brain had a chance to start ruining everything and I was off and running. Today it was the commercial heel from a sock pattern in SOCKS SOCKS SOCKS that kept me occupied during Judge Judy.

Now here's the thing: when I went back to knitting three years ago, my skills were rusty and rudimentary both. The change in my skill level, my understanding, my everything is mind-boggling. I can do things now with sticks and string that I could only dream about three summers ago. The more I knit, the better I knit. Simple cause and effect. Knit more, knit better. One follows the other like night follows day.

So why, I ask you, isn't the same true with my writing? I knew everything when I started. I had all the answers. The words would always be there waiting for me. The more I wrote, the better I'd get. I'd stop wasting time, stop making stupid mistakes, stop being so needy and insecure.


This has to be the only career field on the planet where practice not only doesn't make perfect, it makes you crazy. The more I write, the less I know. Or should I say the more I write, the more I understand how little I know. How can a woman practice her craft for more than twenty years and be dumber today than she was in 1982 when she sold #1? (Notice how the Author shifted to third person in order to achieve distance from an uncomfortable truth.) Some days I make beginner mistakes, totally idiotic bone-headed mistakes that make me blush alone in my office over the sheer stupidity of them. I'm convinced every book will be my last, that the idea banging around inside my empty brain is the last of a dying breed.

I've mastered the Magic Cast-On. Why can't I master the opening of the novella I'm working on?



Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

I haven't written nearly as many books as you have so I'm probably talking through my hat here. However, my theory on why I feel as though I know less and less the more I write is that I actually know MORE. I know how many more mistakes it's possible to make. I have more useful techniques to choose from because I've learned more about my craft but that makes it harder to pick the right one.

Even worse, I want every book to be better than the last one. As writers, we're always raising the bar on ourselves. That makes every book harder to write.

So you're really not dumber. In fact, you're ever so much smarter but with wisdom comes greater responsiblity to our art and to our reader.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Sheri at The Loopy Ewe said...

Barbara - you write, you stay up until 2 am, you knit socks - I like you. :-) (Great blog - wishing you much continued success with it!)

5:39 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Sheri, thanks for posting. I hope you'll come back offer. We nightowls have to stick together.

Nancy, I wish I could believe my difficulties are the result of growing wisdom but I'm more inclined to latch onto the diminishing grey cells theory.

12:33 PM  

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