The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming
Photo Credit: ghost of anja
“In knitting,” she said as she began to cast on again, “you can fix everything.”
… At last, here was something I couldn’t ruin.
Something I could do over, and over, and over. —Ann Hood
One Saturday, I found myself in Michael’s, the craft store, picking out a skein of yarn. It was during the period of my life when the losses were piling up, like logs being split and stacked for winter. What was done could not be undone. All I could do was stack the pieces off to the side, neatly so they wouldn’t tumble down and crush me, and wait for the next hewn log to be tossed my way.
I chose a variegated cotton, the type of yarn that makes a pattern on its own. If I’d been following the hipster script, I would then have picked out knitting needles to match. But I was writing my own script. A couple crochet hooks had been rattling around my sewing kit for decades, untouched since my mom taught me to crochet when I was a kid. I didn’t remember how, but perhaps it was like riding a bike. I thought I could figure it out. Besides, if I got stuck, there was always the internet.
Back home, I dug out one of those crochet hooks and sat myself down with the skein of yarn and a movie for company. And after a few false starts and, yes, with some help from the internet, I did. I made a scarf, of course. A skinny, crooked scarf. Not a masterpiece, just a practice sketch.
Several years ago, I remember saying I didn’t understand the knitting craze, by which I didn’t mean I didn’t understand the urge to make things—I’ve always been a maker—but rather, why knitting in particular? What was it about knitting that drew people, especially those taking their tentative first steps into making, to it rather than to, say, drawing or quilting or pottery or origami or woodworking?
But now I think I understand. Knitting doesn’t require a lot of equipment to get started. It’s portable; you can take it with you. It doesn’t require a dedicated space or make a mess that you have to clean up afterward. The repetition of the process is calming, meditative. You don’t have to worry about lopping a limb off if you zone out or drift off. And when you finish you have something functional. Anyone, given enough practice, can master it well enough to create something they wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear or give as a gift.
Mastery is easier to achieve with knitting and crocheting than with other crafts because no mistake is too big to fix. No matter how far you get into a project, you can always tear it up—rip, rip, rip—and undo your mistake or start over from the beginning. You don’t have to invest in new materials to try again; your equipment never wears out. You can keep tearing a project up and starting over until you’re happy with it. Even once a project is finished, it still holds the possibility of being reworked. If you tire of an item, you can undo it and remake it into something different. If you itch to redo some of your early projects, bring them up to your current skill level, you can do that, too.
Nothing is wasted. No, not even time. For each stitch, even if it is ephemeral, is practice. Everyone knows the more you practice, the more skilled you get. Ultimately, a finished product doesn’t consist only of the stitches you see, but also all the ones you don’t see, everything you did—and undid—along the way.
NaNoWriMo has just finished and some of you are basking in the glow of writing 50,000 words in month. Others are wishing you’d never heard the word NaNoWriMo. What’s the difference between succeeding and failing at NaNoWriMo? Beyond not making excuses about time or the lack thereof, I think it’s a willingness to make mistakes. Those who succeed are willing to write a steaming pile of words, knowing that they may have to rewrite every single one of them.
I recently read an anecdote about a writer who writes a complete first draft, sits down and reads it, then throws it away and starts over from scratch.
Did you gasp? I admit it took me a few minutes to work through my thoughts about that. I’m not sure I could be that brave. At the same time, I understand the impulse. The first draft is a discovery draft; it’s figuring out your story, what works, what doesn’t, taking chances, making mistakes. It’s practice. Even if you don’t literally throw it away, if you’re really rewriting with each subsequent draft (not just nitpicking the details), chances are very little of that first draft will be visibly left in the final one. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It is. Every word you write, even if it’s ultimately deleted, contributes to the final draft. Backing up, starting over, rewriting are all integral parts of the writing process. They’re not a waste of time. If you’re not throwing away words you’ve labored over, you’re not reaching your writing potential.
Write. Throw it away. Start over. Don’t try to recreate the first draft. Take it in a new direction. Make it better. Repeat.
Like yarn, words are infinitely reusable. You’re not wasting them. You’re not going to run out of them. Write, tear it up, rewrite.
No mistake is too big to fix.