Thursday, March 22, 2012


[This post published simultaneously on Write At Your Own Risk, a blog by the faculty of the VCFA MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults]

I will admit it. I am in love with stuff. Things. Objects. I envy visual artists for what they get to do with tactility and color. When I was a kid I could not bring myself to throw away the last sharpened-down stubs of my colored pencils, because, well, there they were. Things to have and hold. And now here I am in the business of putting words on a page, the ultimate abstraction, trying to create shadowplay out of ideas.

The other day someone asked me how I get through a draft. As in push through, even when I don't know how things are going to turn out, which is, let's face it, most of the time. Here's how.
I knit. Because there is a kind of weird synergy between the yarn on the needles, and the yarn trying to spin itself out in my mind. When I get stuck with one, tangling with the other seems to help. It has to be a simple pattern, preferably one I'm making up as I go along, one in which I need to think ahead just a little, but not too far ahead.
Which is, come to think of it, pretty much the way I write.

For many years I foolishly expected that writing would get easier. That if I could just find the perfect combination of tools and techniques, I'd be able to nail it every time. You know, by the third draft or so. No suffering, no panic, no rude midnight awakening by the Demon of Doubt. Kept waiting. It never happened.

I've come to the sad conclusion that No panic for me = No story.

So I pop my work in progress up on my screen, and in between nibbling away at the story, and scribbling notes to myself on the side, I knit. It doesn't keep me from missteps and missed opportunities, from voices that jar or characters who fall off the page. But it does keep me working. And in the end, that's the only sure-fire system I know.
  1. Keep working.
  2. Don't rush the row or the scene.
  3. If you pick the right yarn, the flaws are part of the work.


  1. Love this post on the process of writing, Uma! Now if only I could learn to knit. :)

  2. Not a requirement, Blessy! I do think that doing something repetitive helps to get your brain working in a different way. For me, knitting does it, but I suppose it could just as well be something else.