Friday, May 14, 2010

Writing and Stitching

This week, our impromptu reading group started Bird by Bird.  We are reading and discussing the Introduction and the first two chapters right now.  On Sunday I read this week's chapters and found this E.L. Doctorow quote ringing through my head all week:  "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."  Finally, today, I sat down and did some writing about it:

I know I must force myself to write bird by bird, just the bits I can see in the headlights before me. But I think, like that car trip, I'm going to need to know where I'm going. I think I haven't finished things in the past because I started wandering from my original story line and got lost. So this week I've been toying with that driving analogy, and I've come to a few conclusions:

  •  I only need to write the next part, what I can see in front of me.
  • Like heading out on a trip, I need to know where I'm going and have some idea of the route I will take so I'll know what the next part is.
  • Like a road trip, I won't know--and don't need to know--the exact details of each part of the road before I get there. I will see those as the road unfolds before me if I just keep moving forward.

So, I will need some planning, some sketchy ideas of what my ending will be and at least some of the major scenic viewpoints along the way. But I don't think I actually need to know nearly as much of the story before I start writing as many of my books and classes have led me to believe I need. So, some light planning, a road map with thin and wavering red and blue lines, and I should be good to go, jumping back in with just writing the next bit.

So where does stitching come into all of this?  After writing that bit above, I went to wash my lunch dishes.  I found myself still mulling over this bird-by-bird, write only what you see in the headlights idea.  And then I realized that writing is just like embroidery.  No, really, it is. 

When I plan an embroidery project, first I have a general idea.  "Spring" or "birds" or "autumn leaves."  Just like having a story idea.  The next thing is to start fiddling with design elements, deciding what I want the final product to look like, what colors I want, what cloth and thread and beads will be used.  Then I get the basic design--the outlines of major shapes and some sort of border to give me boundaries--down on cloth.  And then I begin stitching.  I stitch the big shapes in outline first. Then I start filling in the sections, first the main sections of the design then the smaller bits.  Finally, I put in the final details--knots and dimensional stitches and beads--to polish it up and finish it off. 

This works for me.  I always end up with a finished product I like, although it never looks quite like what I envisioned when I started.  Also, somewhere in the early middle stages of an embroidery I start thinking that it's awful.  It's never going to work, it's going all wrong, I don't know how to make it into something I want it to be.  But I calm myself down and just keep going one stitch at a time, one small section at a time... You get the picture, right?  I just can't believe I never saw the analogy before!  Stitching and writing, threads and words.  It is the same.  I can even see a little bit how to create the sketchy outline for writing the way I do for stitching.  I can see that this can work for me.  I just really can't believe it took me this long.


Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

Hi. I'm in the Bird By Bird group and I saw your comment referring to this post you wrote. I like the Doctorow quote too. I also like how you make the connection to embroidery. I've done lots of needlework, now mostly knitting, and I really get it. I can't rush the knitting process so why do I want to treat the writing process differently. Good analogy. Thanks.

Kim Switzer said...

Thanks, Margot. It came to me because I was just finishing up an embroidery when the Bird by Bird group started up, and it all came together from that.

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