Monday, September 14, 2009

Knitting a Novel

You can't just fall in with any group of writers and form a critique group. You have to have common ground to work from. You have to have other things in common, besides writing, so that you can understand where your partners' perceptions are coming from. At least, you do in my experience.

When it comes to this critique group, we have lots in common. Of the many things, in addition to the obvious writing thing, we all knit. (Well, I shouldn't say "all"; Sarah doesn't knit. Yet.) Yes, you heard me correctly, we knit. And not just in our private homes either. No, we have been known to engage in this completely granny-ish activity in public. In cars. In subway trains. In meetings. In restaurants even.

I'm new to the TriMu; I have no idea how knitting became a group activity. In my mind's eye, I have a fuzzy image of a poorly planned outdoor NaNoWriMo write in on one particularly chilly November day. The original TriMu sat there, plotting and trying desperately to keep typing away, even though they shivered so badly that they couldn't hit the right keys. ("Hey," they told one another bravely, "it's Nano -- it's not like you were going to write anything comprehensible anyway!")

"F-f-fingerless g-g-gl-gloves!" a Mythmaker shouted through chattering teeth. "What we need are fingerless gloves!"

At this point, I'm assuming someone had some spare yarn handy or maybe an extraneous sweater got unraveled for a good cause, and another of them happened to have a set of knitting needles on them for reasons at which even my whimsical imagination cannot guess. And thus a craft habit was born. As I said, I don't know how exactly it all went down. By the time I joined the TriMu, knitting was already the thing to do, and I was taught the craft as part of my induction.

I like how I say "induction" there, as though there was a formal ceremony and the TriMu didn't teach me how to knit in Tori's living room while we watched the California Raisins' Claymation Christmas Celebration last December.

In any case, we "all" knit. (It's only a matter of time for you, Sarah.) And as I was sitting on a train last weekend with my most recent knitting project, it occurred to me how very like knitting writing a novel can be.

Finally! I can hear you all thinking. She had to get to the point eventually.

You start out with a pattern, a plan for what you're going to knit and what stitches you're going to use to make it look the way you want it. This sounds suspiciously like an outline for writing a novel. As a pantzer, I don't hold with that kind of nonsense, but I do at least go into a new writing project with a vague idea of what I'm starting up. So maybe you don't always start with a pattern, but you at least sit down with some vague inkling as to the shape of what you want to knit. I'm fairly certain most knitters don't sit down thinking they'll knit a sock and come away with an afghan. I'm sure it happens that way sometimes, just like novelists sometimes sit down to write a romance and come away with an epic high fantasy trilogy. . . Not that I've ever done that. ;-)

So you have your pattern and you get your yarn and your needles and stitch markers and what have you together and you start off with the knitting. And maybe while you're knitting, you decide you like the way something might look if you tweaked the pattern a little here and there. Or maybe you make a mistake (this is something I never do. . . *innocent whistle*) and end up liking the way that new "pattern" looks and so you just go one with knitting it that way instead. Or maybe you make a mistake that you don't like the look of and so you sit there and spend an hour or so unknitting. Which is a lot harder than it sounds, by the way, so much so that unknitting is something I actually never do. (Incidently, why do we never notice these mistakes at the time we're making them? Why is it always rows and rows later that we realize them?)

Or, put another way, you get your research materials and notecards and word processing programs and what have you together and start off with the writing. And as you go, you might come up with a smoother way to make that plot you outlined earlier work or the characters might go off in a direction you didn't expect but really love or you might get six or seven chapters in and decide that your main character needs to die and someone else should be telling this story and so you have to go back and rewrite it all.

Or, put still another way, you work the craft, whatever it may be, and gradually make the project your own.

And then the project starts to really take shape. Your fingers get used to the pattern of the stitches and you get into a rhythm and rows (or words, as the case may be) just start to flow off your fingertips. There may still be tricky moments, mind you. You might have to sneak an extra stitch in here or there to make up for dropping one somewhere else, just like you might have to throw in a line of dialogue you didn't anticipate to set up the big twist at the end that you didn't see coming before. But the point is that things are starting to tumble and if you just keep going with it, everything will work out.

And before you know it, it's time to cast off. Time to type "THE END". You've finished. It might not be what you set out to do, but who needs more socks anyway? Epic high fantasy trilogies are so much warmer.

1 comment:

haricot vert said...

Lol. Highly enjoyable. I <3 it.