In Which I Compare Writing To Knitting
I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing. With NaNoWriMo almost over I’ve been working hard to sit down and write every day. I haven’t always managed that but I’m much better than I was last year. Now what does knitting have to do with that? At first glance, not a thing. But, recently, it hit me that writing and knitting are quite a lot alike.
First, knitting and writing require patience and practice. You aren’t going to learn to knit the moment you pick up a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. Neither are you going to automatically write a bestseller by picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Both require skills you have to learn, over and over again. Knowing how to hold a string and a needle in one hand and a second needle in the other while simultaneously wrapping that string around the second needle without dropping the first needle is not a natural or easy skill to learn. It takes time and a lot of patience. So, too, knowing how to put words and phrases together so that they make sense is not a natural skill, but a learned one. We are not born knowing how to speak. We have to learn through daily lessons (listening to those around us and mimicking those sounds) how a word means something and how a certain way of saying it makes it mean something else.
The more challenging the knitting or writing, the more experience you gain. As in knitting, writing requires you to challenge yourself. Once you learn the basics of knitting then you are able to challenge yourself by attempting a project, for instance, knitting a hat. This will teach you new skills that you do not know yet. Writing is the same. I participate in writing challenges throughout the year because they force me to think outside the box and push the parameters of my current knowledge. Sometimes I am forced outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes my insight and/or perspective changes. My writing reflects these experiences. Challenges push you and if you aren’t being pushed then you, and your writing, can stagnate. What good are your writing skills if you aren’t using them to learn new ones or explore new ideas and perspectives?
Knitting and writing create black holes. Think I’m kidding? I’ve been knitting for over fifteen years. When I’m working on a big project such as a sweater or a blanket (or a freaking Harry Potter scarf in which I begin singing “this is the scarf that never ends…yes, it goes on and on my friends. One day I started knitting never knowing what it was, and I’ll continue knitting it forever just because-you get the idea), I will reach a point where it all stays the same no matter how much or how long I knit. The project never gets bigger, never gets longer, it just STAYS.THE.SAME. This is the black hole of knitting. No matter how many stitches I knit, the project eats them for breakfast. Then chaotically spits them out at some random point in the future without any notice. This means that I am often over my intended length or width and my measurements are way off. Then I have to carefully, stitch by stitch, go back to a place as close to my measurements as possible. It’s a pain the butt. During NaNo I have discovered this same effect. I have gotten behind more than a few times and I have caught back up but it felt as if it took forever. I would type and type and type and not get anywhere close to the word count I was trying to reach. Then, after hours of writing and typing and losing sleep, I went to look and realized (after lots of tears and caffeine) I had written over my goal. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go back and re-type since I’m not editing as I go, but still…it was a pain in the butt. Knitting and writing black holes are evil. Watch out for them.
Knitting and writing are cathartic processes. I’ve heard knitting called a Zen hobby. The idea being that its meditative and relaxing. Have you ever watched someone knitting? Let’s say they are knitting a lace shawl. Guys, this means they are making fabric with a lot of holes in it using dental floss. Having knit a shawl I can tell you, there is nothing relaxing about it. One mistake means you might have to rip THE WHOLE THING OUT! Seriously. In fact, knitting is one of the least relaxing things I do. I’m having to constantly read the instructions and watch what I am doing so I don’t make a lot of mistakes. One oops! and hours of work has to be unraveled and remade. How is this cathartic? Well, actually, its not only cathartic but enjoyable. You see, while I’m knitting (and focusing on something other than the problem that drove me to pick up my knitting in the first place) I have to concentrate on what I’m doing which drives everything else out of my mind. My breathing calms and I am able to think more clearly, less emotionally. While I’m knitting, I begin thinking about other ways to handle/deal with whatever the problem is/was. Basically, I’m using a more productive solution to deal with my stress. Writing does the same, but in a different manner. When I take my emotions out in my writing, I create a more emotional piece. I write out my problems from a different viewpoint (or at least I try), or I write in a new character who I immediately destroy or harangue or plague with problems. Its much more constructive, less destructive, though Freud and Jung might question my sanity. It’s definitely more productive than letting the feelings sit and simmer and eat away at you.
In the end, with both knitting and writing, once all the edits are done, you realize YOU have made something incredible out of nothing. In knitting, the magic takes place after all the knitting is done and your project is put together and washed and dried. In writing, the magic is in the final edits. With knitting, you’ve taken some string and two sticks and created a wearable (usually) item that someone will love. With writing, you take something (words) out of nothing (air) and created something that can be held in two hands (or listened to if its in an audible version) that someone will love. Its an amazing, almost miraculous, thing, and while you may think anyone can do it, the truth is not everyone can. You can’t just pick up a pen and begin writing without basic skills, and some people just never develop those skills beyond simply filling out forms and their signatures. And, oh, horrors! Some people do not have the inclination or desire to write a story! Good thing there are enough of us out there who do, and who want to learn and give voice to the stories that live inside our heads. And, fortunately for me and my family, my knitting knowledge might just save us during the next Ice Age because, you know, skills.
Happy (late) Monday!