September 30, 2010

Writing is like knitting...sort of

I'm knitting a pair of socks with a complicated (by my standards) lace pattern on teensy 2.25mm needles. While I was frogging* a section the other day after misreading which row of the pattern I was on, I realised that knitting is a bit like the process of writing a novel. (Well, my process, anyway.) Here's how:

1. Know what you're making
There are some right-brained, freeform knitters who can start from the merest whisp of inspiration from a yarn or a shape and grow it into whatever it becomes, but I need a clear idea of what I want to end up with. That means my knitting patterns have to come with pictures (preferably photos) of the finished product. Similarly, I'm not someone who can start a book with just a character or a theme - I need to plot before I can start writing or I'll end up with a jumper with three arms and no neckhole.

2. Make sure your materials suit the pattern
It took me a long time** to accept that the officious knitting pattern instruction to always check your gauge before you cast on was worth noting. After amassing a pile of knitwear that will never be worn because I used chunky yarn on a pattern that called for lace-weight, and viceversa, I now diligently knit a little swatch and measure it to make sure that the yarn and needle size I'm using will produce the correct proportions for the finished pattern.

Similarly, in my writing, characters are my base materials and if I don't know my characters well enough before I launch them into the plot I always end up paying for it later when they don't fit properly into the story or with the other characters.

3. Pick up dropped stitches as quickly as possible
Dropped stitches make 'ladders' in your knitting. They're easy to pick up if you notice them on the next row, a little harder but not impossible if you notice within three rows. But ten rows on and you're looking at a trip to Frogtown, which brings with it the added possibility that in unravelling your work to fix a past mistake you'll drop more stitches on  the way.

Plot holes are like dropped stitches. In the past I've tried to ignore them, telling myself I'll fix them in the revision stage because going backwards in your writing is painful when you're headed for the finish line. But every time I've done that I've ended up having to rewrite other scenes and chapters because what I've thought would be a simple, inconsequential change actually affects a lot of things I didn't see until I'd made the change.

As an example, halfway through the first draft of Little Sister I realised that the character who was driving in a few scenes wasn't old enough to have a driver's license in Australia.*** I figured that it was only a few scenes and ploughed on, carefully not having the character behind the wheel for the rest of the draft. But when I went to make the 'simple' fix in revisions, the solution meant introducing another character whose relationship with the orginal driver introduced further complications. Instead of rewriting the few scenes I had when I first realised what the problem was, I ended up rewriting about five others, and adding a few new ones!

4. The difference between a WIP and a UFO is doing a little each day
In the beginning, every project is exciting because it's fresh and new and full of possibility (and if you're like me you have your idealised pattern photo or plot outline in front of you and you think you have it all together so it's going to be easy), but once you get started that enthusiasm can quickly fade as you realise how much work is involved in making this thing.

For me, the key to stopping my work-in-progress from joining the pile of unfinished objects in my knitting basket/My Documents folder is to do a little each day and stop when I run out of concentration or momentum, knowing that I'll plug away at it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day until it's done (or until I hit point 6).

5. Block your work to make it fit properly
'Blocking' is the revision stage of knitting. Once any seams are sewn together, you wet the finished item, stretch it into shape on a flat surface and leave it to dry. Blocking is the difference between the jumper whose hems turn up at the edges whose shoulder seams sag, and the one that fits like a glove. This is another knitting lesson I took a looong time to learn because I was always so eager to a) declare the project finished and b) wear it, even if I had to tug at bits of it all day to keep them in the right place.

Luckily, I don't have the same aversion to revising manuscripts, but I know authors who absolutely hate it. It's hard to be 'finished' but not, especially if you've got a new idea (or three) brewing, new characters distracting you or you're just fatigued from the first draft. But, like blocking, revising transforms the finished-but-lumpy into the wow-I-can't-believe-you-made-that-!.

6. Know when to quit
There are some projects that just don't work, even if your gauge is spot-on and you've followed the pattern to the letter.**** Some patterns look great in the carefully styled photo but crap in real life; some novels sound fantastic in the plot outline but just don't work once you start writing. When you recognise that no amount of work can save a project don't beat yourself up over it, just frog it and move on.

I used to think that I couldn't give up on a writing project because I'd put too much work into it to just let it go, but now I try to look at it more like frogging. Sure, the thing I tried to make didn't work out, but I've still got the yarn/characters/excellent scene with frollicking otters, and I'll find another use for it in the future. (Or so I tell Mr Fantapants when he questions why the storage space under the queen-size spare bed is taken up entirely by my yarn stash...)

* frogging = rippit-rippit - the sound of undoing rows of knitting to fix a mistake or start again
** seriously, about 20 years!
*** hmmm, who reads too much US-based YA?
**** case in point: the cosy capelet I knitted and re-knitted three times last month but still looked like a shapeless woollen sack no matter how many adjustments I made to the pattern 

September 21, 2010

What she made: bumper edition

So work on Book 2* has kind of stalled while I wait to find out who my new editor is, and work on Book 3 (which also has a name, but my working titles seem to be jinxed so I'm keeping it to myself for now) is coming along sloooowly because my brain is still living in Little Sister land. The upside of this suspended writing state is that it's given me some releatively guilt-free** time to spend making other things. Things like:

dumplings! (vego at the front, prawn and chive at the back, plus obligatory green veg)


golf balls!

I mean:

gnocchi! (Delicious in spite of their extreme size.)


Very Purple Person's faboo reversible bag!

I also got a bit stash-happy at the recent end-of-winter yarn sales, so everyone's getting knitted goods for Christmas this year. You have been warned!

* which I should stop calling Book 2 because it now has a name - Little Sister - and should be out next March, hurrah!
** actually, not at all guilt-free, but those are pretty good excuses, right?

September 16, 2010

Dough - a Footscray love story

If you've ever been past Footscray train station you'll instantly recognise the subject of photographer Jaime Murcia's lovely photodoco, Dough - a Footscray love story.

Watching it makes me want to nip down to Olympic Doughnuts right now and grab half a dozen of them, still warm from the fryer and oozing jam... (It also makes me want to give Mr Olympic Doughnuts a big hug - lucky for him he's protected inside his doughnut shack.)

September 13, 2010

Where she went: daffs and laffs in Kyneton

On Saturday we went to Kyneton to have a nose around and go to their monthly farmer's market. Coincidentally it was also one of the big days in Kyneton's Daffodil and Arts Festival, as we discovered when the royal family walked passed us while we were looking for parking.

The market was quite small but we got very fresh vegies*, freerange eggs, local honey and a fantastic wholemeal sourdough loaf from Red Beard Bakery. (In retrospect I should have bought some of the delicious-looking local cheeses, too.) (And some of those yummy olives.)

We also got lucky at a couple of the town's op shops. I scored a copy of Traditional Knitting with Wool, published by the Australian Wool Corporation in 1982, from which I hope to finally learn how to read a fairisle pattern so that I can whip up some squirrel mittens next winter. We came across a couple of books whose titles probably wouldn't make the cut in 2010...well, definitely not the one on the left, anyway.

* going to markets like these always reminds me with a jolt just how un-fresh the veg we buy in city supermarkets is :(

September 6, 2010

What she watched: Scott Pilgrim

Being a bit of a Michael Cera fan*, I was really looking forward to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and it didn't disappoint. I'm not usually one for 'action' flicks, especially not ones based on the premise of characters having to defeat each other,** but the fighting was so stylised and accompanied by so many great one-liners, even I was fine with it. (I especially loved the vegan police, who reminded me of myself in my most militant-vegetarian phase.)

And I love a film that assumes there are grammar nerds in the audience...

*Yes, I know he can only play one character, but it's a character I like.
** Because usually 'defeat' = violence and Aimee is an uberwuss when it comes to violence, fictional or real.

September 3, 2010

Music sins from my past

Pip's confession about the embarrassing soundtrack to her youth reminded me of some of my own aural sins. At around 13 I started to listen to what I still consider (although many may disagree) to be some pretty cool music (mainly The Smiths - because Morrissey understood my pain - and The Cure), but before then the field was wide open to some craptacular pop.

Aimee's embarrassing top 10 
(for bonus embarrassment, I paid good money to see the ones marked *)
  1. Duran Duran* (admission: I still have a soft spot for them, esp.since I found out they have a bookclub.)
  2. Hayzee Fantayzee
  3. The Human League
  4. Culture Club*
  5. Howard Jones*
  6. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
  7. Bananarama
  8. Spandau Ballet*
  9. Tears for Fears*
  10. Dr Hook
Possibly the weirdest thing about putting this list together is finding that most of these 'artists' not only still have official websites but are also still touring!

September 2, 2010

Where she went: Melbourne Writers Festival 2010

I could only make it to a few events in the excellent Melbourne Writers Festival schools program* this year as I had to fit it in around (paid) work. I went to:
  • Jaclyn Moriarty and Lili Wilkinson talk about Dreaming of Amelia and Pink - two of my fave reads this year. I've been a huge fan of Jaclyn's since Feeling Sorry for Celia, so it gave me a fangirl thrill to see that she's just as lovely in person as her books led me to believe**.
  • Fading Twilight, which was promoted as a discussion of the pros and cons of the Twilight series' success but turned out to be a school-style debate that (worser and worser) pitted women fans of the books against men non-fans. The best argument of the day was that Edward wasn't a real vampire because real vampires are a) ugly, b) soulless and c) remorseless. The worst was that Bella is a compelling heroine. 'Nuff said.
  • Cath Crowley and Karen Tayleur talked about the difficulties of plotting books set in a 24-hour period, their writing processes and research. I don't know whether it was good planning or happy coincidence, but the session was really well-structured, including slideshows from each.
  • Alice Pung and Sally Rippin spoke about growing up Asian in Australia (Alice) and growing up white in Asia (Sally), but both seemed bemused by the title of their session.*** Kirsty Murray did a bang-up job of moderating and educating the audience about the White Australia Policy, as context for the discussion.

* which, IMO, is way more interesting than the 'adult' program - if I had the time I could easily have spent the better part of this week flitting between Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 at ACMI, but I didn't find a single grow-up session that I was interested enough in to spend $21 on. (I could have a little rant here about the cost of tickets putting the mainstream festival out of reach of many people...but I won't.)
** She is also, I suspect, a little bit magical, but I'm yet to prove this.
*** Chicks with Sticks - presumably as in 'chopsticks' but it seemed like the joke fell flat with the authors