Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sleeves (Make Two)

When I was in college, I purchased a big plastic bag of beautiful blue yarn--good quality cotton--and set about making a sweater. I was adapting a pattern for a man's sweater, using the wrong size needles, the wrong size gage, but I was patient. I adapted. I liked the process of knitting, the feeling of working with pure color--that gorgeous blue.

I was living in a trailer about a mile off campus. I had two crazy-fun roommates whom I'm still close to. One, Becky, pointed out the instructions on my knitting pattern: Sleeves (make two). She was pointing this out for two reasons. First, because this particular instruction seems to be pretty innane. Unnecessary. Of course it's two sleeves.

But then, when she pointed this out to me, I'd made three or four.

I was struggling to get the size right. The increases right. The shaping. The length. Making all the necessary adaptations: men's sweater pattern, wrong size yarn, wrong size needles.

Today, I'm struggling again. Writing this stupid novel of mine. Wonderfully, maddeningly, precariously complicated. Too complicated. I've come to chapter ten, somewhere near the middle of the story.

But, something's wrong. I only need one chapter ten, and yet I've written a half-dozen. I can't get the shape right, the gage. The feel.

I've been remembering my old knitting days, how it took me a number of sleeves to get the right two sleeves made. That it's not supposed to be as easy as sleeves: make two. That you have to over-write, then slash, then start over, then despair, then grow giddy, hopeful, then avoid it all together. Steer clear of any substantial writing time altogether.

Hemingway tells us, "For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment."

But what if the story is truly is beyond attainment? What if I write a half-dozen more chapter tens and they all suck?

What about chapter eleven? Will I ever be able to face chapter eleven?

What if the book went off track in chapter two and I'm too stupid or too invested to see it?

I've made sweaters I've never worn. Misshapen, ugly things no one could love.

The irony is that I know the uncertainty is part of it. That the uncertainty is as positive a sign as I'm going to find.

That uncertainty in writing fiction is the only certainty we have.

Unravel. Rework the yarn. Re-cast on the stitches. Freshen my coffee. Start again.

(I can do this, right?)


cathykidman.com said...

So useful to me right now. Today.
Love that you post your writing process.

sherylmonks said...

Beautiful analogy.

Susan Woodring said...

Oh, Cathy, I'm so glad!! Thank you. xoxo (PS. Please do send me your memoir! Very excited to read it!!)

Sheryl, thank you. I'm afraid the analogy wouldn't work at all if I was a more precise knitter...there's no reason for anyone to make a pile of sleeves. Oh well...

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