Writing now from a crafter’s perspective


For weeks now I’ve been pondering what to do about writing and sketching while on vacation. Do I tote along both my big journal and my Moleskine sketchbook, in my carry-on bag and every time I go anywhere? Do I bring only the Moleskine, and pray I don’t get the bug to write while I’m out? This morning I was doing my daily Pages and writing about this dilemma, and suddenly the answer — as it so often does, while doing the pages — fell into my lap: get a notebook that is half lined, half blank. Oh my! I hurriedly finished the pages and then scoured Etsy for a suitable journal that could be delivered to me by Saturday… nope, nothing. (Surely I’m not the only writer-artist out there who’s had this brainwave? Naturally, I can write on unlined paper, and sometimes I prefer to, but not for lengthy sessions…) Eventually I found Undercover Street, and to my joy, its lovely creator, Sarah, is not only excited to make me a custom half-and-half journal for our trip, but she lives a mere few miles from my parents’ house and I can pick up the journal from her this weekend. *delighted hand claps* I can’t wait to see my made-for-me book… it’ll be covered in maps of the same vintage as the above photo, but will have a different shape and of course, the vital lined pages!

In related news… guess what I did today? I wrote! Not a whole lot, I must confess, but I did a lot of writing-related work. I’m applying to a writing workshop, so I read through some books by the workshop’s faculty, revisited the statements of purpose and interest on the application, and pulled out all my old short stories to see if I could revise any of them for the writing sample. I must say, I have really been enjoying delving into the faculty’s books. Even if I’m not accepted to the workshop (and chances are slim), I’m grateful to have discovered all these great authors, and grateful that the application has kick-started me back into writing.

I was looking through my old short stories, and it struck me that I should really write short fiction more frequently — not because I do it so well or because it’s so fun, but because (a) these stories give me a decent collection of stuff to pull from and work with at any given moment (read: I can prepare a sample for this app without having to create something entirely from scratch), and more important, (b) the fiction I write at a particular moment in time helps my future self to access who I was at that moment. I read the stories I wrote in my first year of grad school, and they pull me back to all the insecurity and uncertainty and bravado I felt then. They show me what was important to me when I was writing them, and what I coveted, whom I envied, and what I hoped for. I’ve always kept a journal, but my fiction shows me what’s underneath the surface of my thoughts, and for that reason alone I should be creating more of it.

Also, in reading over these stories I decided I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself during those classes. Is it even possible to write a good story in a few weeks? A really good short story should come from so much of your experience, and that may not be accessible while struggling to finish 10-12 pages amid all one’s other coursework. Writing is revision, and revision is more than just changing words around; revision is seeing with new eyes, and that needs time and transformation. So I’m letting myself off the hook, finally, for not being The Most Amazing Writer Ever in these stories. That was never going to happen, but the practice matters. Which is another reason I’m applying for this workshop even though I’ll be shocked if I get in: it’ll be good practice.

Interestingly enough, I had a particular story in mind that I wanted to rework for this writing sample, but when I looked over all my past work, it was a totally different story that stood out to me. Quite frankly, I’d thought that first story was my best piece of fiction to date, but today it just seemed unformed, a good idea that needs a hell of a lot more time for its execution. Meanwhile, this other story — one I’d forgotten about, to tell the truth — seemed to contain some real substance. So I’ve been sitting with it, trying to give it some more shape, and man, it’s painful. I think I’ve figured out what makes crafting so much easier than writing or drawing! It’s because when I’m crafting and I get stuck, I can still do something. I can manipulate the fabric a different way, or I can rip out the stitches and redo them, or I can choose another wallpaper and give it another go. But when I look at a page on the computer screen, when I don’t know what to do, I can’t pick up the words and fiddle with them to make them right. I can only keep staring and thinking, and usually that just sets me going in circles for a long time until I come up with something new. Boy, it’s a challenge.

On the other hand, today I felt like I was more able to see the big picture of a story. That doesn’t make revising any easier, but it does give me more of a road map, and that’s some help. I feel I have my crafting to thank for this, which is totally bizarre, but something about today’s writing process felt so familiar from my past months of diligent crafting. When I’m making something from fabric, I need to look at the whole creation and ponder colors and textures and prints and styles and notions and trims, and how they’ll all come together. Similarly, when I’m writing about that item for my shop, I need to find a way to distill the essence of that item into a short description that will make someone else instantly get what I’m going for and want to buy it. That ability to distill into essence has eluded me for years, both in fiction and in history, but now I think I’m finally starting to learn it. The Muse be praised!

Four more days until Hong Kong! Ack!