My newest rule?
No knitting in the morning. If I do, this is what happens:
Four months into knitting and thirteen scarves (one of them seven feet long) later, my three faithful readers might notice that I haven’t blogged since summer. Nor have I made much progress on any other writing projects. I blame some of this on nearly dying and then anemia (lame excuses, I know!). But if I start knitting in the morning, there goes my day.
For a writer, common wisdom is that creativity should be reserved for the pen in the morning. This has long been true for me. At a panel on inspiration that I attended in June at the Chuckanut Writers Conference, authors Waverly Fitzgerald and Priscilla Long both stated that they do their “15 minutes of writing” first thing in the morning. That way, no matter what happens during the day, they have done their writing and can authentically call themselves writers. And the “15 minutes” generally extends into a longer writing session: the “15 minutes” tricks their minds into getting started.
Knitting, like writing used to, calls to me morning, noon, and night.
My second new rule?
No reading knitting books before bedtime.
Fired up with new ideas if I do, I’m still awake at 2 a.m., fondling my yarn, eating Ritz crackers, and jotting down ideas. My hematologist reassured me that my “sleep center disruption by physical trauma” was normal, but I did not confess to her that knitting was the sneaky new culprit.
When I’m in the thick of a writing project that’s flowing, it often wakes me at night. I’ve tried a series of lighted pens in order to jot down that perfect sentence or inspired plot solution without waking MIM. This type of insomnia, while problematical, has always felt like a success to me. I’m writing! One perfect sentence is worth a completely screwed up next day at the day job.
My knitting notebook is bursting, while my current writing notebook remains anemic. Midnight knitting feels destructive, though. It disrupts my life for little payoff other than a scarf with a gaping hole.
Also, do I need a second creative pursuit in which I sit on my ass for hours on end?
I’ve had other creative flings over the years.
Witness my cake decorating fiascoes over the past year, but I never felt fired up about decorating. I wanted the end product, not the process.
Over a quarter century ago, I made baskets. Basket making, like cake decorating, requires a large, dedicated chunk of time and space, as well as advance planning. The bark or reeds must be pre-soaked, and I flung water everywhere as I weaved long pieces of wet reeds—not exactly underwater basket weaving, but close. I wore a plastic apron, which I still own. I also experimented with paper making, using pressed flowers, which I’d forgotten about until a friend reminded me.
When I seriously returned to writing in my mid-30s, I gave up basket making. I knew early on that I couldn’t do both, not if I was to do either of them well. I gave away every shred of basket-making material, every reed, book, and awl, to a fiber-artist friend. I’d already given away almost all of the baskets I’d made, and I still use the few I kept.
Wow! Unlike a row of composition tablets filled with scribbles you couldn’t pay me to try to decipher, I still have these creations to show for my efforts. Like basket making, knitting is tangible. Even the cowl that didn’t fit over my head is a finished something I can hold in my hand. And stretch over the head of my brother’s old garden rake.
Knitting is portable and fits into small slots of time and space. Except that once I get going, I can’t stop, even when my knuckle joints are aching. No need to trick my brain into that first 15 minutes when it comes to the clacking needles instead of the heavy pen.
Knitting is social. I can pretend that I’m listening while someone else talks, rather than retreating to my room and donning ear protection designed for the gun range in order to block out the world while I try to make sense of the world. Perhaps I need that right now: to be in the world I came too close to exiting prematurely rather than sealing myself off from it.
It makes sense that a creative person would “fill the well” with more than one creative pursuit. But at what point is a second (or third or fourth) creative outlet charging a low artistic battery, and at what point is it procrastination? Putting off the hard stuff while pontificating that we’re being creative?
Knitting is a fling. It’s easy. Well, okay, maybe not so easy. But everything about it is fun and new, and I have no expectations. With writing, I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and expect a lot from it and myself. Can I ever get back to that fired-up joy about creative writing? Perfectionism is a hard mattress under a leak, while experimenting with a new craft is inner-tubing down a brisk river on a sunny day.
Writing is my long-time spouse, while knitting is a kitten. A donut hole. A sexy neighbor who changes in front of the open window.
At what point is an alternate creative outlet good for a writer, and at what point is it a voracious monster that gobbles up our true calling—the tough one—instead of feeding it?
I don’t have the answers. All I know is that I’m coddling my giant monster in her 7-foot-long scarf. Maybe somebody I’ll strangle her with it, before she strangles me, but for now the companionship is toasty warm.