Friday, July 11, 2014

Spinning Yarns


by Tracy Barrett

When I was eight or so I got the chicken pox. REALLY bad chicken pox. My grandmother took the train from Pennsylvania to New York to give my overwhelmed mother a break. For days, Magah (my dyslexic brother’s pronunciation of “Grandma”) sat next to me, quietly reading or knitting until I was well enough to sit up, when she taught me to knit. Then we would take turns, one reading while the other knitted. Magah loved murder mysteries, so we read an Agatha Christie novel. I don’t remember which one it was, only that Magah had to flip to the end to reassure herself that a suspect named Tony wasn’t the perp. She said she wouldn’t keep reading it if the murderer had the same name as her late husband and son. Ever since, knitting and reading have been linked for me.

When I started writing seriously, a lot of the process felt very familiar, and I realized that there were a lot of similarities between writing and knitting.
I wasn't the only knitter at the SCBWI-Midatlantic Novel Revision Retreat!
  • In both, there are recognized genres/garments, but the most beautiful finished products often break the conventions of those genres.
  • There’s really only one stitch (the knit stitch) but it has multiple variations and you can make anything you want out of it. Do it backwards and it’s a purl stitch. Twist some stitches around each other and you have a cable. Knit a lot into one stitch and you have a bobble. Change colors/needle size/fiber and it has a completely different look and feel. In writing, all you have are words, but the ones you choose and their sizes and colors combine to make whatever you want.
  • Sometimes you need to rip out/delete something you’ve worked on very hard and start over. If you close your eyes to this necessity, you will live to regret it.
  • The fact that you’ve always been a picker doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be a thrower, and the fact that you’ve always been a pantser doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be a plotter. (Every trade has its own lingo, right?)
  • The book/garment has to look as though everything about it was intentional and effortless. Nobody needs to see your crappy first draft, and nobody needs to look at the back side of your knitting.
  • You shouldn’t trust your spouse/parent/BFF when they say that your sweater is beautiful or your book is great.
  • They’ll also never understand how painful it is to kill off a beloved character or knit a bobble. If you’re lucky, they’ll sympathize, but they’ll never really get it.
  • I recently had to move a scene about twenty pages earlier from where I had first placed it. I thought it would be a cinch but there were so many little things that needed to be tweaked, tenses changed, references explained, that it took longer than the actual writing of the scene. Just like patching in a correction in a knitting project.
  • When you get to the end of a complicated project you swear you’ll never start another. It’s just too darn much work. But before you know it, an idea is weaving its way through your mind, and off you go again.
    Knitting at a meeting of the SCBWI Regional Advisors

13 comments:

  1. This is just awesome and also makes me want to take up knitting.

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    1. Nancy, knitting is better than valium for soothing the nerves. I highly recommend it!

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  2. Love this post, Tracy! And I second what Nancy says. It makes me want to try knitting : )

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    1. Straight knitting is very easy and you can make entire articles of clothes without purling, etc. There's a great book called "The Knit Stitch" that teaches you just that. The author has a writerly name--Hemingway? Hawthorne? Ah, just looked on my shelf--Sally Melville.

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  3. What a great post, Tracy! I just finished teaching a beginning knitting summer camp for 2nd through 5th graders and so much of what you said rings true. The students were amazed when I showed them in a stitch dictionary that all knitting boils down to two stitches (knit and purl), or as you say knitting and knitting "backwards." It's amazing how as writers we can come up with such a variety of colorful language and meaning using the same toolbox, words!

    I have been thinking about starting a blog on my site and I may just continue your analogy. What knitting can teach you about writing... Thanks for sharing your reflections!

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    1. I took the leap! Thanks for the inspiration again, Tracy. http://www.lisastringfellow.com/blog/writing-lessons-i-learned-from-knitting

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    2. Amazing!!! I love your first post and am now following your blog.

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  4. LOL! My dyslexic son turned Gram into Nam and that stuck too. <3

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    1. Kimberly, I once sat next to an author at a signing who had a book about grandma-names. I was pleased to see "Magah" there under the alternate spelling of "Maga." I wonder if "Nam" was in there too!

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  5. I love watching my friends around me knit at writing conferences. However, when my grandmother taught me, it never really took. *le sigh*

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    1. Maybe because you already have something creative you do with your hands? I took "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" with me to a writing retreat so I would continue to be creative in non-writing times and got stuck in the same place each time and then gave up and picked up my knitting needles. (I told this story to Alison Lyne and she instantly guessed which part of the book it was.) But I did feel there was something similar about the processes.

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  6. Definitely makes me want to try knitting. Let's see if I can get over my spatial challenges!

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  7. I have been working on the same sweater since 2007. Yeah. I know.

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