Friday, October 24, 2014

Weaving in the Ends - Fear of the Finish

I have mentioned once or twice before on Twitter that, when not writing or at my day job, I'm often crocheting or knitting. I've been crocheting for a few years now, but I've recently decided to take up knitting as well. Of course, for my first major project I pick this beast of a pattern.

It's turning out relatively well, all things considered. I'm about 82 rows in, and here's what I have to show for it:

Please forgive the dirty couch. Nowhere better in my tiny apartment to take pics!  :-(
It doesn't look like much now, mind you, but when I finally finish binding off and getting it blocked, it will at least roughly resemble the pattern. I hope. Possibly.

To me, yarn work and writing are analogous processes. You start off with a pattern or idea, a generic feel for how a particular project is going to look at completion. But by the time you reach the end, your final result is sometimes less a reflection of the pattern you started with and more a reflection of the choices and changes you made along the way. 

Mind you, there's less room (and fewer chances) for error in yarn work, I think, than there is in writing. If I'm following a specific pattern (as I almost always am), the number of stitches in a given row is vital to continuing the project in a recognizable pattern. However, if you're experienced enough, you have a pre-established bag of tricks for hiding your errors as you go. No one other than your fellow yarn snobs will ever know the pattern was disrupted. In the end, you just have to follow the directions as perfectly as you can.

In writing, the end result is so subjective that the possibility for "error" is limitless.  Maybe I should not have taken that plot twist in chapter 23.  Maybe the twist is fine, but I should have set it up in previous chapters better.  Maybe that speech in chapter 11 is pure drivel written in a moment of NyQuil induced insanity.  In the end, that's what rewrites are for -- for finding those errors and fixing them before anyone notices the disruption in the pattern.

Here's the catch: I knit or crochet for myself or for my close friends. I have no desire to do it professionally. (Soapbox: Do you know how much we'd have to charge just to recoup the yarn alone? The skein of yarn for this pattern was $40.  No joke.  Remember that when you see these things ridiculously priced at craft fairs. End soapbox.) That means that I don't have to take my errors as seriously. Very few people will ever see them, and those who will don't care.

But I hope to write for more than just those closest to me. I want to produce work that can be widely appreciated (or even loathed--notoriety has its perks). And I hope desperately to eventually get paid for it. Therefore, I have no choice but to work desperately on eliminating errors before anything goes to press. Working the kinks out of a manuscript, particularly one you've spent a lot of time on already, can be the most frustrating task on the planet.

For both knitting and writing, the final step is always weaving in the ends: tucking in those rough edges and making something beautiful out of an imperfect design. And that's the frightening part. Once the ends are woven in, the journey is over. You gift that completed project to the world. Or to yourself. Or whatever. But any unresolved errors are there, glaring at you, mocking you for all eternity.

For me, that fear of the finish is my greatest source of writer's block. I have such a blast crafting, whether it's beautiful patterns or beautiful words, that when the product is close to completion, I inevitably have a moment of panic.  Last weekend, I'd finished drafting all but the concluding chapter of my current novel.  I was so excited to be so close to entering another re-write.  And you know what?  I had to stop writing entirely for several days before I could bear to tackle that final chapter.  The idea that the draft might be fully on paper and ready for me to re-sculpt was terrifying.

Similarly, this past week I received a letter for acceptance of publication on a short piece (scheduled for publication November 5 -- I will be sure to plug it once it's out).  And although I was thrilled to get that first acceptance letter, I am also terrified.  That work will be OUT there, despite its flaws, forever accessible by those who choose to read it.  And how frightening is that?  It almost makes me want to give up writing altogether.

But I won't.  I'll just keep stitching words into phrases, phrases into sentences, paragraphs into chapters. Eventually I'll have stories that I might one day call finished.

If only I didn't have to weave in all those ends to do it.


  1. Great post, Amalie! I also have an aversion to "endings." It's actually a known challenge for people who are a life path number 9. Who knew! And congratulations on the short story acceptance! That's fantastic.

    I won't lie, I don't think the fear ever goes away. Most of the time I don't feel that edits on something are complete, but at some point, I know I'm just obsessing and I have to send it out. Being a writer and a perfectionist makes things very challenging to say the least.

    1. Wow! I'd not even considered bringing numerology into the mix. LOL. I'm apparently a 3?

      I don't recall where I read this particular gem of wisdom, but it argued that artists live an otherwise irreconcilable paradox: narcissism and very low self-esteem. It's like we are particularly prone to self-doubt specifically because we think we should be better than we are. Just an idea to ponder. :-) I am certainly a perfectionist (woohoo obsessive-compulsive personalities!), which is 99% of my battle.

      Thanks for the lovely comment!

    2. Yep, we certainly seem to be a crazy lot. LOL!