This might sound at first like the riddle from Alice in Wonderland—(why is a raven like a writing desk?) but for me there have been many overlaps between handcraft and writing.
I love knitting. When I cannot work on a project I enjoy watching others at work. Lately the subway has become a knitter’s paradise. Handwork has remained a hand/brain activity. I am not so skilled that it is effortless. In fact, in my case knitting requires my full attention. When I space out, I’ll end up ripping out ten rows because of a dropped stitch way back when. People often think of writing as a purely intellectual effort, but for me the activity of writing is physical. My brain thinks, my fingers type.
On a great day, when writing comes easily, and words spin out almost without thought, I type like mad, without correcting typos, as if I were taking dictation. They happen once in a while, but truthfully, I haven’t had many days like that. Most workdays are deliberate in effort. The words come slowly, like the loops over needles of a novice, rather than the fluent, even rows of an experienced handcrafter.
Though our everyday speech often feels patterned (how many times do we say the same things to our family members or co-workers?) words can be refashioned and rearranged endlessly. The language evolves so rapidly that my teenaged daughter uses expressions for which I need translations. Knitting is perhaps more like the digital world—there are knits and purls, like zeros and ones. The variety is in their texture and pattern.
Reorganizing a sentence is something like repairing mistakes with a crochet hook, or carefully ripping out a stitched seam.
My mother worked many needlepoint pillows—when she made mistakes she would mutter to herself, then carefully remove the mistakes with a tiny and precise scissors, and rework the section, her original error now invisible. The best writing feels like that, though as writers and good readers we know how much effort went in to what might read as a clear and simple prose.
As I work on new projects I am reminded of the greatest similarity between writing and handwork—the value of patience and persistence.
Thank you Julie for being a guest at Books and Needlepoint today!
Julie Metz is the author of The New York Times bestselling author of Perfection, which was a 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Selection. The recipient of a MacDowell Award, her writing has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Glamour, Hemispheres, Publishers Weekly, and the New York City storysite mrbellersneighborhood.com. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
About Perfection: Julie Metz had seemingly the perfect life--an adoring husband, a happy, spirited daughter, a lovely old house in a quaint suburban town--but it was all a lie.
Julie Metz's life changed forever on one ordinary January afternoon when her husband, Henry, collapsed on the kitchen floor and died in her arms. Suddenly, this mother of a six-year-old became the young widow in her bucolic small town. But that was only the beginning. Seven months after Henry's death, just when Julie thought she was emerging from the worst of it, came the rest of it: She discovered that what had appeared to be the reality of her marriage was but a half-truth. Henry had hidden another life from her.
Perfection is the story of Metz's journey through chaos and transformation as she creates a different life for herself and for her young daughter. It is the story of rebuilding both a life and an identity after betrayal and widowhood, of rebirth and happiness--if not perfection. (back cover)
Connect with Julie at www.perfectionbook.com or on Facebook.
Publisher/Publication Date: Voice, May 2010