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Sunday, November 3, 2013


photo courtesy of Johntex

Dawn Eastman lived in Michigan for many years in a house full of animals, unusual people, and laughter. She now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, daughter, and one extremely bossy small dog. Pall in the Family is her first novel.
Learn more about Dawn at her website and blog.

Knitting a Novel

I’m excited to be visiting Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers today to have a chance to discuss two of my favorite things: knitting and writing.

I have been knitting for almost 40 years. I’ve been writing about that long, but not as faithfully. Writing is sometimes difficult for me. Maybe the ideas aren’t flowing. Or the ideas are there, but the writing isn’t bringing them to life. Or I’m using all of my energy worrying about a deadline and not actually writing. And sometimes I’d just rather be knitting.

Recently, while driving–one of the few times I can’t write or knit, I reflected on how my approach to knitting has informed my approach to writing. There are many similarities between finishing a large knitting project like a lace shawl or a sweater and a large writing project like a novel. I realized that as my knitting habit matured, so did my writing habit. The writing comes easier for me if I remember to apply my knitting rules to my writing project.

Rule 1: A little bit every day adds up. For me, a large knitted project seems to grow of its own accord.  I love to knit, so every day I spend some time working on whatever is on my needles. I don’t even think about it; it’s just something I do. Every. Day. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same habitual relationship with my writing. When I get frustrated that my writing isn’t moving forward at lightning speed, I remind myself of this important fact. Particularly when either doing the laundry or organizing my daughter’s closet seems more appealing–those are the truly dark days. Usually, I knit a few rounds while considering my options.

Rule 2: Practice makes you better. I have occasionally tried to teach others to knit. I’m always surprised at how frustrated some will get that they are not producing cabled Irish sweaters within the hour. Knitting looks easy, especially when the piece is finished, but there is a learning curve. And the more you practice the easier it gets. Writing also looks easy, especially when you are fully involved in the story. When I first started writing with a goal of publication several years ago, I was initially surprised at just how hard it is. No longer could I sketch out a story for my own amusement and leave it behind. Now I had to truly craft a piece of writing that would appeal to others. It was a bit like moving from scarves to sweaters. A scarf will fit anyone and is fairly easy to finish. A sweater project requires more consideration of the wearer, and an attention to details like shaping and size.

Rule 3: I need a pattern. I stress that I need a pattern because not everyone does. Some knitters pick up a skein of yarn and just start knitting to see “what the yarn wants to be.” They often create beautiful pieces. I suspect that these are also the sorts of people who can rent a car in a foreign country and “see where we end up.” I don’t fall into that camp in my knitting or my writing (or my travel to foreign countries). I cannot start writing without some sense of where the story is going, preferably in the form of a multi-page outline. I won’t discuss the writing camps of plotter and pantster here. If you are a writer, you know what I mean. The key is in knowing how you work best, not which group has the better method.

Rule 4: Even if I follow the pattern, I sometimes have to rip back. My mind wanders, or I misread the instructions and repeat the mistake for many rows, or I realize I prefer a technique that is different from the one in the pattern. I find that I don’t mind ripping out work that isn’t up to my standards. I like to knit and if I have to re-knit a sleeve, that just means I get to enjoy knitting that sweater for a little while longer. I am working on bringing this attitude to my writing. Sometimes all those words just need to be cut. I know that it will make the story stronger, but I haven’t yet developed the friendly relationship to the delete key that I have to re-winding a ball of yarn.

Rule 5: Finishing is sometimes the hardest part. I am the worst finisher ever. Sometimes, I will finish a project and let it languish for months–years–for want of a button. I have a very cute vest in my basket that has been finished for almost a year. It needs ONE button. The detail work isn’t fun for me. It’s the knitting I love, not the sewing up. I don’t like to seam a sweater, sew on buttons or weave in the ends. The same goes for editing a long piece. I’m not in the story anymore happily discovering where it will take me. It’s done now and I have to check my commas and search for synonyms because I’ve used the word “glittered” fifty times in one manuscript. But the more I write, the more I enjoy editing as I see how much that effort can improve a story. Maybe I need to apply my editing attitude to my knitting.

I’d love to hear from writers who are also crafters in the comments! Do you approach your writing the same way you approach your craft?

Pall in the Family
The aptly named Crystal Haven is the destination for tourists seeking psychics, séances, and the promise of contacting the spirit world. In this small western Michigan town, everyone knows the Fortune family. Rose is gifted with Tarot card readings. Her sister Vi is a self-proclaimed pet psychic.  And her daughter Clyde is…

A cop. A cop on leave from Ann Arbor, more specifically, who’s come home to kooky Crystal Have to re-evaluate her life. Mom and Aunt Vi can’t wait for Clyde to finally embrace her own psychic gifts and join the family business. Clyde would prefer the low-stress lifestyle of a dog walker, and the low key company of her nephew Seth.

But when a local psychic is killed, leaving behind a traumatized Shih Tzu, it seems to be in the cards for Clyde to get involved.  With her old flame Mac leading the investigation, that may prove awkward. Whether she uses her skills as a cop or her long-denied psychic abilities, it’s up to Clyde to divine a killer’s identity before someone else suffers more misfortune.

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Unknown said...

Interesting post. I can't knit - they taught us in elementary school - I managed to make a lot of scarves for my Barbie doll.
Book sounds great.

Unknown said...

Great post! Like you I have a cardigan waiting to be finished. Writing certainly is like knitting, isn't it, and that's excellent advice. There is a learning curve, a pattern helps, and sometimes you have to rip out a bunch. Good luck with your book!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Good analogy. I knit, too. Buy plenty of pattern books and end up designing my own sweater or vest or whatever. However, I do adhere to basic rules (measurements, etc.) so that the project will come out right. Just as I do when I'm writing a novel.

Unknown said...

Victoria - I'm sure your Barbie was very fashionable! Thanks for the tweet and for stopping by to leave a comment.

Brenna - good luck with your cardigan! I try to pick those new open cardigan patterns now - no buttons! Thanks for visiting today.

Marilyn - Sounds like your knitting is like my reading of writing advice books - just take what works and disregard the rest. Good luck with your knitting and writing, and thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Great post. As a knitter, since I was five and knit the world's longest skinniest scarf, and a writer I really enjoyed it. But while you can't drive and knit, you can drive and write - dictation software!

Unknown said...

You're right! That would solve the pesky driving problem. I usually get someone else to drive on long trips so I can knit...