Writers: Stick to Your Knitting

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I’ve been a knitter almost all my life. I made my first sweater when I was twelve and have kept a project on the go ever since. There’s a pair of needles, purple yarn, and a half-finished vest lying next to my couch as I type this.

A lifetime of knitting has ingrained certain lessons into my personality. And I’ve come to see that they apply to my writing as much as they did to my days in IT. Here are some of them:

knitting1. If you make mistakes, even if they’re many rows back, you gotta rip out your work and start again. As comedian/knitter Tracy Ullman has said, a badly knit sweater is like a bad relationship. Better to fix it than to wear it in public and have to explain to your friends why you settled for something so obviously bad, or ugly.

– Don’t be afraid to use the delete key on your computer. (Or in a bad relationship, I guess.)

2. Some things just take time – you can’t fast-forward through a knitting project. You can’t “summarize-knit”, or “speed-knit”, or even “knit just the important parts”. You have to knit every stitch, thousands of them, one at a time, until the end.

– Don’t rush to finish your written work. It’s finished when it’s finished, and you’ll know when that is.

3. The finished product is only as good as the raw materials that go into it. Sure, you can buy cheap yarn that’s ratty, badly spun and full of knots. But your sweater will end up looking like a dog’s breakfast and you won’t want to wear it. (See point 1 re ugly relationships.)

– Do your research. Hone your craft. Edit, edit, edit.

4. Knit a sample swatch before you start the main project. It always pays to know how much you’ll have to knit, how tightly, the size of the needles you need, and the amount of yarn.

– You’re going to have to write multiple drafts of anything that you’ll expect a reader to want to read. Write small bits. Take a critical look at them. And use them as models for the larger work.

5. Last but not at all least. Don’t completely follow a pattern. I love to know that what I’ve made is slightly different from anything anyone else has ever made. Change the stitch design. Add a collar. Change the neckline or the length. Make it your own.

– And write whatever your little heart desires.

5 Responses to "Writers: Stick to Your Knitting"

  1. Jack Eason  February 3, 2011 at 20:49

    Sage words J.I. I’m taking time out from the MS for my next novel. Currently I have 51000 words honed to perfection (although my editor and good friend would beg to differ on that point).

    I delete many times, plus I tend to cut and paste to reposition a sentence that is out of place.

    How about you?

    :))

    Reply
  2. Jack Eason  February 3, 2011 at 20:51

    I delete a lot J.I. Plus I cut and paste when a particular sentence is in the wrong place.

    How about you? 🙂

    Reply
  3. J.I. Kendall  February 3, 2011 at 23:06

    My delete key gets a lot of exercise, too. I can work on a draft for a month and end up with the same word count (more or less) that I started with – so you know a lot’s getting removed. And I take time outs as well. Right now I’m between drafts (4 and 5) and will pick up the MS Friday or Saturday and get back to it…and hope it’s fresh again.

    More than anything, I think that knitting has taught me patience on the journey.

    Thanks Jack, for taking the time to write.

    Reply
  4. Gabriel Constans  February 6, 2011 at 20:56

    Good article J. I. I appreciate the comparison’s you make between knitting and writing (as well as the ones to relationships). Especially like the 2nd suggestion, “Some things just take time – you can’t fast-forward through a knitting project. You can’t “summarize-knit”, or “speed-knit”, or even “knit just the important parts.”

    There are times when you use the word “and” unnecessarily. Example, “A lifetime of knitting has ingrained certain lessons into my personality. And I’ve come to see that they apply to my writing as much as they did to my days in IT.” Take out the “And” and simply start the next sentence with “I’ve come to see…”

    Reply
  5. andrea anderson  February 18, 2011 at 18:36

    I don’t think you can ever have a perfect story; the grammar can be perfect.
    I can find the most qualified editor in the world, but if I take my manuscript to another editor, they will just tell you “I can make it better;” and it just keeps going on and on. I think the Author will just have to trust their own judgment and not be obsessed with making changes. But this is a good article, and thanks for sharing

    Reply

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