Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Knitting and Brewing and...Writing?

My cousin Jenne Hiigel e-mailed me recently to let me know about her new book project, A Knitter’s Guide to Beer. Now that, I thought, is one intriguing title. Equally captivating are Jenne’s thoughtful and funny posts about knitting, homebrewing, and the process of craft. I especially loved “The Value of Ripping and Dumping.” When her knitting students are daunted at the prospect of having to rip out stitches and redo them, Jenne tells them that’s “more knitting pleasure at no additional cost!” Mistakes, she points out, are an essential part of learning the craft…and that the process itself should be valued and enjoyed, not just the finished product. After all, if you’re not having fun, why do it?

My first writing teacher, Verlena Orr, told us that most beginners have to produce about 10,000 pages before their work is good enough to publish. My heart instantly sank. At that time, I was lucky if I could produce one page a week. Compulsive geek that I am, I quickly figured that, at that rate, it’d take me one hundred and ninety-two years­ to get published!

Whether the 10,000-page-rule is really true or not, I don’t know. What Verlena was trying to get across to us beginners is that writing is a craft. Like any other craft, it takes learning and practice. It also takes a willingness to recognize when something isn’t good enough. When the work needs to be rethought, re-imagined, redone. Or even scrapped entirely. At that point, it’s tempting to get discouraged and give up. Or to hold on even more fiercely to the work, blaming everyone else when it doesn’t get the recognition we think it deserves.

Part of craftsmanship is never resting on your laurels. It's striving to always improve, to tweak a little something, get a little better, a little more original. That’s what keeps it from getting boring. That’s what makes it fun. It's how all of us—eventually—get to where we’re headed, slipping and tripping though we might.


Melissa Amateis said...

My first novel was a complete learning experience for me in more ways than one. It taught me a lot about craft, yes, but it also taught me that I needed to let it go and work on other projects. I'd worked on that novel and that novel alone for close to five years, constantly rewriting whenever I learned more about the writing craft. It drained me, although I didn't realize it at the time. I finally said "enough!" and started work on the next novel. I finished that one in a year. BIG difference!

Christine Fletcher said...

Oh, that first novel...the one we cut our teeth on! It's so easy, as writers, to sink all our energy into that first project. I agree that moving on, or working on a few things simultaneously, is essential. It lets us apply what we've learned in a new way, without treading the same old ground. Great point, Melissa!

Anonymous said...

"at that rate, it’d take me one hundred and ninety-two years­"