09 March 2011

The Unravelling

Three reasons why writing is like sewing:

1) You create something from nothing, building and shaping raw material into something beautiful and useable.

2) You have to have experience working from the pattern before you can create your own patterns. You need to know how a pattern is actually supposed to go together before you can branch out and make a different, new one.

3) You can be creating along, thinking everything is going swimmingly, and all of a sudden realise: Things Aren't Right.

There are four key types of 'As in Sewing, So In Writing' mistakes.

A. The Birdsnest Bobbin. This is where you are sewing along and it looksl ike everying is going fine, but then everything comes to a crashing halt. The machine seizes up, and if you try to go any further you'll snap the thread. Everything looks okay on top, but when you look underneath, there's a whole birdsnest of thread. This usually happens because you didn't thread the machine properly (or because it unthreaded itself when you weren't looking; sewing machines are pains in the butt for that).

How is this like writing? Because if your story is not threaded properly, if it's not set up right to begin with, things can very rapidly come to a crashing halt, and if you try to write any further, you'll just break something and make it worse.

B. Running Out of Thread. I don't know if any of you out there are sewers (! seamstresses? O:)), but if you are, I'm quite sure you'll have had the experience at some point of sewing along, probably down a very long seam, thinking everything is going well, only to find at the end that you only actually sewed the first third of the seam because the bobbin ran out of thread. o.O All the stitches you've done that look neat on top have nothing to hold them in, and they unravel almost straight away.

In writing, this is when things are going along swimmingly and think it's all fantastic, until you get to an endpoint and you stop and reassess, and realise that you've just written 30 pages of fluff. None of it's actually relevant to your story, to your plot or direction - it's all tangentenal, and there's nothing to anchor down those threads that look pretty, but will never be able to hold any weight.

C. Catching the Fabric in the Seam. This often happens when you have a tricky seam to sew (like the circular seam on those jolly hats). Things are going fine, you finish the seam off, it holds together nicely, but then you take it off the machine and have a close look and realise that the wrong part of the fabric has gotten caught up in the seam. The only solution here is to unpick that part of the seam and sew it again.

In a story, maybe you put a scene in the wrong place. Maybe some dialogue got caught up somewhere and actually needs to come later. Maybe a subplot was introduced at the wrong point, or a key plot point happens too early or too late.

D. Sewing the Wrong Seam. This is probably the most frustrating mistake. Maybe you read the pattern wrong - or maybe you read it right, but you just picked up the wrong piece of fabric at the last minute. You sew the seam and it looks fantastic; it's the neatest seam you've ever sewn in your entire life! And then you realise: you just stitched the left sleeve with perfect precision into the neck hole. o.O Not so helpful.

This is when you have perhaps stitched the wrong back half onto the front half of a novel. Or maybe a character has had a personality transplant and become someone you loathe. Or when you realise the entire point of your novel as it stands is, just by way of example and not at all stealing examples from my own experience *coughcough*, Revenge Is Good, Please Take It. Urgh.

In Jesscapades at the moment I haven't been progressing terribly quickly. It occurred to me recently that I have managed to make most of these mistakes. The writing came to a crashing halt and I knew if I continued I'd break more things than I fixed. So I went back to the last place the seams were holding together, and had a good look around. I realised that the steps I had the characters taking from that point onwards were not logical at all; they were stupid and plot-serving and not all all in character.

So this week, I'm unravelling. I'm unpicking the seams of my story to uncatch all that fabric that got caught up where it shouldn't be; unstitching things that were stitched together in the wrong place, and rethreading the story so it has a stronger foundation to build on - because once I get these first few chapters right, I know the middle is going to be so much stronger :o)

And yes, as those of you following the insanity on twitter know, I made ten of those witches hats over two nights. And I mean nights: 11pm - 3am on puppy watching duty o.O They were, believe it or not, for the school swimming carnival O:) :D


Nayuleska said...

:) This is so true! And yes, I remember those two nights last week very well!

I'm a novice seamstress (or will be at some point), for now it's embroidery, cross stitch & knitting.

Amy Laurens said...

Yes, it was all rather insane and precarious at one point there! *shakes head* ANYway, there were done on time, that's the main thing :D

I admire you for stitching and embroidering. I love the idea of it, but sorely lack the patience O:) :o) :D

SlingWords aka Joan Reeves said...

As one who sews, I must point out that you missed one of the similarities between sewing mistakes and writing mistakes: running out of time to complete the project.

I have a box of ready-to-go sewing projects, pattern pieces still pinned to the cut-out fabric. I can't find time to sew them.

Kind of like the notebook of story ideas I really want to write. I'll never have enough time!

Amy Laurens said...

Joan - I can't believe I forgot that one! So, so true. Sad, but true. *pats forlorn abandoned story ideas*

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