Six Writing Lessons From Crochet

I’ve been editing a novel…which also means I’ve been procrastinating.

And in the disguise of looking like I’m actually doing something, I picked up an unfinished crochet project. Not anything especially fancy like a delicate baby afghan for a niece, but rather one whose sole purpose was to use up extra yarn and provide another warm throw to use while watching television or a movie on the couch. Or even better, while reading a book.

But as the stitches added up, I noticed a few things that applied to that novel I should have been working on instead.

1) A large crochet project like a blanket is actually the sum of multiple small parts that follow a pattern. Whether using chunky yarn or a delicate thread, the stitches become rows which then become blocks (or in a very simple pattern, one giant block). Not to mention, there are different or additional stitches for creating the edging border or connecting the smaller pieces together. Crochet patterns are like a different language to the new crafter, but once knowledgeable, an experienced crafter can dissect even the finished product and duplicate it.

And writing? Well, words become sentences which become paragraphs, then scenes and chapters.  There’s a beginning, middle, and end to the story. An inciting incident, a quest, obstacles, a big black moment, an epiphany, a battle, and a perfect ending. Romance adds an additional layer of pattern to the story from boy-meets-girl to first kiss to proposal. There’s nothing wrong with having a pattern because it simplifies the complicated huge project down into doable smaller steps.

2) Different colors create the most beautiful images and designs. Whether a stitched heart on a plain background or a repeating pattern of colors, the alternating variety results in visual interest. Some colors blend together perfectly while some stand out from the crowd, making the end product either a soothing blanket to lull an infant to sleep or a bright energetic stuffed animal for a child’s playroom. And some colors remain from beginning to end while some only appear for a short time, then are replaced.

The colors in a novel come in the form of different characters, alternating points of view, the inclusion of the villain’s thoughts, or even the addition of a subplot or secondary character that doesn’t run the entire story. The same basic story pattern becomes unique through the creator’s choices of color through the characters and even the pacing of the scenes.

3) Given enough practice, crochet stitches transform into automatic motions. I remember when I started, I had to keep thinking about how to hold the hook and yarn, and repeat to myself the steps to yarn over, pull through one stitch, yarn over, pull through two stitches and so on…all while my hands were cramping from the overuse of small muscles. Until the day I didn’t have to think about how to do a double crochet stitch anymore and could concentrate on the bigger picture or pattern instead.

The same is true of writing, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Instead of needing a scene checklist, some craft elements come more naturally. You begin to feel the rhythm of a dialogue exchange and know when an action beat or internal thought might be needed. The more you write, the easier it becomes, thereby allowing your mind the freedom to try something new or bigger with the story.

4) Mistakes are easy to spot if not as easy to fix. The longer I crochet, the easier it is to spot a place that doesn’t look right. A place where my yarn tension was too tight or too loose…or where I either added an extra stitch or skipped one. Once I diagnose the problem, it’s a matter of unraveling the threads back to that point, fixing the mistake, and then moving forward again.

Diagnosing a plot or character problem also gets easier with time as I can sense where the story went off the tracks or the pacing got too slow…or the story got boring because it lacked the right amount of tension. The good news about writing is that while I go back to fix mistakes, I don’t automatically lose all of the writing that followed…just might need to tweak it a bit here or there to blend with the new changes.

5) There’s a peace in the monotony that allows creativity to flourish. Once I got past the learning curve, crochet was something I could do while talking to a friend, watching a movie, or simply relaxing while letting my mind wander hither and yon to solve all the world’s problems. It can also become a time of prayer or even reflection on where my life is headed or how far I have come in the past year or two.

When it comes to writing, there is creative flourishing in the middle of monotonous or thoughtless tasks. In fact, I find my best ideas and brainstorm plot solutions while walking, driving, or even washing the dishes. Sometimes it helps to step away from the writing project and embrace the monotonous while you allow your brain to keep tugging on those threads until you discover how one random piece here could connect to something over there. Other times it even happens when I’m in a writing rhythm of a scene and fresh ideas start “pinging” with sudden inspiration.

6) A finished project requires that loose ends be woven into the whole. Every time you switch skeins or colors, there are small dangling ends of yarn that distract from the beauty of the project. So, even when you think you’re done, you’re not. Of course, you could take the time to weave them in as you go along, but that slows you down. I tend to wait until the end to pick up the hook and weave those ends underneath other stitches until everything is neat and tidy.

When it’s time to edit, my job is to pull those necessary threads into place throughout the story line and make every sentence, scene, and chapter into a satisfying whole. Sometimes I know exactly where those loose threads are, but usually it takes the objective eye of a critique partner, beta reader, or the editor at my publisher to point out a detailed list of all the spots that need a little more attention.

The list that sent me into procrastinating mode in the first place. Except, with a little time away embracing the monotony of crochet, I figured out several solutions to the story problems and was actually eager to get back to work on the book.

Now, after finally turning the revised manuscript for Focus On Love back in to my editor, I’m planning to curl up to read a good book while snuggled under the warmth of my new blanket. While there, I’ll not only celebrate how all the threads of the story came together so neatly, but also begin to dream about the next story.

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