Sunday, March 15, 2009

Writing + Knitting = The Novel Knits Project

Writing and knitting are complimentary activities. This is one of the things that drew me to knitting in the first place - it keeps my hands busy while my brain is off in story space. If I've got nothing to do with my hands while I'm plotting, I end up losing focus and, say, spending 45 minutes looking at affordable hovels on the MLS website. So in a weird way, knitting - distracting and life-consuming as it is - helps me focus on writing.

In August when I started working on my current novel, I started thinking of ways to tie the two activities together in a meaningful way. The resulting idea was a long-term project with three rules:
  • Each novel I write will be assigned a knitting project.
  • While I'm knitting that, I need to be focused mentally on the novel.
  • The knitting project should suit the novel in some way.
I've been looking forward to this for months, partly because of the first pairing I had planned: my current novel, Sum, and Meg Swanson's Saddle-Shouldered Aran Cardigan. Sum is the third and final novel in a fantasy series I've been working on since I was fourteen. This series is what made me want to be a writer in the first place, and over the last ten years it's become a huge part of my life. I'll miss it deeply once it's over. So it makes sense to make myself something woolly and comforting to snuggle into for comfort when that day comes.

Remember that rule about the knitting suiting the writing? These projects go together better than I expected.

Both are complex, do-it-yourself deals I never would've dreamed I could get away with when I started in these crafts. Sum interweaves loads of plotlines, uses multiple POVs, tackles subjects I'm not used to, involves major world-building, and brings a story that started out as a lonely boy with strange abilities into the epic fantasy level. (Hopefully, I can do all this successfully.) The sweater pattern is cables upon cables in a style I've never knit before, working from a two-page pattern that throws some basic guidelines at you and leaves you on your own with a tape measure and calculator.

Both are slight variations on the traditional form they're imitating. Sum treads into epic fantasy territory, but instead of swords and sorcery, my characters are packing mp3 players, psychic powers, and a desire to get this over with so they can get back to drinking and schoolwork. The battle soundtrack is Queen, not Howard Shore. Meanwhile, I'm making an aran sweater out of non-traditional (bright fucking blue!) yarn and inventing my own cable pattern for the back.

Both also scare the crap out of me. Finishing Sum closes an era in my life. I don't know what will happen to these characters I've lived with for the last decade once I've stopped writing them, nor do I know how that will change me. I've been dragging my feet in writing the book because of this. The sweater for Sum, appropriately, has steeks. If that word doesn't make your stomach plummet into your shoes, either you're a far braver knitter than I or you don't knit. For non-knitters, steeks mean this: you reinforce your fabric and then cut your knitting apart. With scissors. Yes, "Augh" is the correct response.

And if that wasn't enough parallels, the sweater also has a giant cabled tree up the back, meant to remind me of the giant non-yarny tree where the climax of this book will play out.

I cast-on the Sum Sweater this weekend.
About three inches in, and the scene I've been stalled in is finally over.

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