If you follow me on G+, you’ll know that in addition to my work as a writer, I am also a potter; as in I work with clay, both throwing on the wheel and hand building. I have recently rediscovered an old hobby as well: knitting. So what do these three things–writing, ceramics, and knitting–have in common?
It’s all too easy to screw up in any of them.
When I spend time at the studio, I typically have a plan, as in, “Today, I’m going to throw small serving bowls on the wheel.” I start by weighing out chunks of 2 1/2 pounds of clay, then wedge (work the clay so the air bubbles get smoothed out), and plunk it on the wheel to throw. In an ideal day, I’ll end up with what I’ve planned about 75% of the time. Often, I’ll make mudpies.
Sometimes, I’ll get the bowl thrown just right. In that case, it will need to dry for several days before it’s stiff enough to trim and shape, adding a foot ring, and taking off excess thickness at the base. Sometimes, when I trim, I’ll trim right through the pot. Oops.
But if that doesn’t happen, and I get a bowl whose shape I like, where the sides and rim are the right thickness, then I’m ready to sign the bottom and put it on the shelf to dry fully in preparation for its first trip to the kiln. Hard part over, right? Well, no. Last week, I squeezed the sides of the trimmed bowl when turning it over and warped it. I had 3 choices: try to return it to round (never really works), toss it (after all that work?), or hit it with a stick.
So I hit it with a stick and created a deliberately squared, non-symmetric bowl.
It’s easy to mess up knitting, too, especially when you’re watching world series baseball and not looking too closely at the pattern. Really, I should just knit plain old stockinette, but where’s the fun in that?
If you look at the left hand edge by the knitting needle, you’ll see several rows that don’t match the pattern. I was off by ONE row. But the pattern got messed up. I could say screw it and keep going or choose to return to the pattern and have a half inch that doesn’t match. (Either way, every time I looked at the finished piece, it would be like sticking a thumb in my eye.) Or I could choose to frog the mistake rows. (Frogging in knitting is tearing out mistakes . . . because you ‘rip it, rip it.’)
Frogging will commence after dinner. Sigh.
Which brings me to the drawing board. So I recently did a deep revision pass on TIME AND TITHE, the sequel to my first published novel, THE BETWEEN. I sent the manuscript to a handful of my trusty beta readers to get one last big picture sense of the story before it heads to the editor next month. And they all said pretty much the same thing.
The opening chapters had issues.
Pretty significant issues related to the fact that this is a sequel and I didn’t do a good enough job drawing readers into the present story while anchoring them in the prior one.
I could ignore them.
I could totally ignore them because hey, what do they know, it’s my story anyway. Oh, poor misunderstood artiste, me. . . (Yeah, no. Totally not me.)
But that would be no different from putting a poorly formed bowl in the kiln, or finishing a shawl with a noticeable error in the stitch pattern. So I”m going to hit it. With a frog. Or something.
Actually, I’m reworking those problematic opening chapters after solving the problem with my dear friend and reader extraordinaire, Diane, helped by the liberal application of a bottle of wine. I’m actually really excited to rebuild the opening. It will be much stronger and much more compelling than my original idea.
Art is transformation, and mistakes are an invitation to let something magical into the process. And as an old ceramics teacher used to say, ‘Don’t be afraid to hit it with a stick.’