My critique group held its sorta kinda maybe annual planning session last week. This is the time when we talk about our road map for the coming year – for the book we’re writing, the book we plan to write, or the book we’re marketing. When it was my turn, I pulled out a collection of notes and asked permission to throw them away.
I like writing notes. I write on scraps of paper, in composition books, in journals. Then I have to decide how to use those notes. This is usually where the system fails, because I really have no system. I can keep up with a filing scheme that someone else created (most of the time), but for the life of me I can’t devise one.
My critique partners know this about me. Not only have they seen my note collections, they’ve seen my sewing room. They are kind and compassionate, but they also know that sometimes I need a good, swift kick in the rear to do what needs to be done. They gave me permission to throw the notes away after I have taken the time to type the information into documents that live in a special directory on my computer.
Taking time to organize my notes will save me time in the future. Right now if I need to track down a possible continuity error I have to paw through six inches of paper and previous manuscripts. It isn’t smart, or efficient. The time for change is now.
Yesterday was Pi Day. I didn’t want to make a pie; I wanted to make cookies. These cookies have a well in the center for jam, and in the right light they sorta kinda maybe look like tarts, which are small pies. Thus, by my reasoning, we had pie on Pi Day.
I bring this up because there are times when you have to adjust your reality. Notice I did not say adjust to reality – that is a rant for another day. I mean there are times when you learn about a contest and you have a beautiful piece already finished (with a sleeve and everything) but it has nothing to do with the theme. This is where the artist statement becomes your friend. The judges do not need to know that your inspiration for the quilt was finding two random pieces of fabric that played together well. If the theme of the contest is travel, find a way to tell the story of these fabrics traveling through your stash until they ended up together, and how that reminds you of the unstoppable movement of people trying to find out what is over the next mountain. Is it a lie? Maybe, but if you can find a connection it can become a version of reality if not of absolute truth. Let’s be honest – the absolute truth of why we make a quilt (or any art) is because it pleases us at the time. Art answers questions we didn’t know we were asking, or could ask. Part of our job as artists is to let the work speak to us. Another part is to tell the world what we heard. Nothing in our job description says we can’t explain our work in different ways to different audiences.
My family has a saying, “Off and on.” It means, “Get off your fanny and get on with your work.” I’ve had to use that phrase on myself more than once to open up my manuscript and do the next round of revisions. Then I saw this little orange flower in the back yard. It’s cold outside, and there’s rain, but the flower is still blooming. It doesn’t matter that the bloom won’t last, the plant keeps working. “Self,” I said, “if that little flower can spread her petals while shivering in the weak morning light – with rain on her face – you can sit in your warm house and edit The Captain and Chenille.” I’m not sure how long the flower power will last, but I’ll take any incentive at this point. Perhaps today will be the day you find your incentive, and get those stories written or revised.
Despite my best intentions, I’ve had to buy more fabric. Of course, I bought more than I actually needed to finish a project that was made almost entirely from my scrap collection. The final border (auditioned above) was not in my stash, and I didn’t have anything that would come close to working. I didn’t even have anything I could paint to get the right color. I had hoped to find a good border at my quilt guild’s yard sale, and I did, but by accident. I found something I thought might work, and a lot of other fabrics that I bought because I liked them. When I got my treasurers home, I discovered the beigey-pink batik tucked in a roll of other batiks. It is ideal for the project, both in color and in scale. That’s the progress part. The anti-progress is I have more fabric when the plan for this year is to end up with less fabric. Oh, stop laughing.
I watched a show about popcorn the other day, specifically selling Americans on making popcorn at home. That was never an issue in my house. My parents made popcorn all the time, long before the advent of microwave popcorn, or air poppers, or stove-top pots with special attachments. There was one year when my parents found a a show we could all watch together, and we had popcorn every week in front of the TV.
The fact that my family was a food outlier isn’t the point. The point is that since my experience was a little different from some in my community, I can use this for world-building. My characters can show readers how the setting of my novel differs from the real world by their reactions when their expectations are challenged. I am still looking for a way to incorporate the confusion of a school friend who came over for dinner one night. We were having spaghetti, something I considered very normal. She did not. “Don’t you eat American food?” she asked.
You probably have some similar stories that you can use for world-building. Even if your story is set in the present, you still have to ground your readers in the setting. Minnesota and Mississippi may be on the same continent, but they aren’t the same place. Mine your memories for ways to show your readers exactly where your characters live, and how that affects them.
Rather than tuck the embroidery sampler I made in April Sproule’s workshop into a pile, I finished it. It is bordered, embellished, bound, and labeled. The label reads “Autumn,” but it can also be called “one less class UFO.”
The moon bead comes from my friend Linda Ballou. Her example of clearing out stuff she knows she won’t use inspired me to finish this. I like it just the way it is. It doesn’t need to be part of a larger quilt, or on the back of a jacket, or be a pocket on a tote bag. It doesn’t need to hang in a show, be given as a gift, or sold. It is a finished piece and I’m happy on many levels. I hope for the same happiness for you.
Chances are good that I’ll be able to do some editing on The Captain and Chenille this week. The first draft was finished in December, and I had hoped to start some revisions in January. Yes, I know, there are good reasons to let a manuscript sit for several months before you start tinkering with it. Fresh eyes, and all that. It’s like waiting for the chocolate chip cookies to cool before you eat them. I had to put this novel aside, however, because of other deadlines (like taxes). That gave me a chance to retrieve all the notes I had made in various notebooks and on scraps of paper, but I have yet to read them all. The notes I have read are giving me pause, because when Ann Anastasio and I first discussed the plot we intended to write one book. We’re looking at two now, maybe three. I know I’m going to find loose ends everywhere. Some threads will be picked up in the next book, so I’ll need to make them look less like a mistake and more like a clue. Others . . . well, let’s just say I expect the word count to change considerably after this next pass. The point is, a delay can be a blessing if you let it.
When I went into the sewing room with a tree block and a Challenge assignment, I did not expect to come up with this. I already have fabric and beads picked out for the assignment, at least the color part. The second part of the assignment is to incorporate a Chinese zodiac animal into the piece to commemorate Chinese New Year. I looked at the cherry tree block that a friend gave me and decided to put aside my other fabrics and quickly create something with sheep. Then I did an internet search and found that some sites use a goat rather than a sheep. “Self,” I said, “put in both a sheep and a goat, and use the colors assigned to you for those animals.” I sketched a goat and a sheep on a color catcher sheet that reminded me of parchment, then colored the animals with corals and turquoise.
Then the block got pushy. “Give me a border,” it said. I found a gold tree fabric that would go along with the theme of animals in the orchard, and a nice red that would pick up the cherries in the block as well as evoke the red-and-gold color scheme for new year celebrations.
“Give me embellishments,” the block said when I finished the border. I happened to be looking for something else and found a gold flower that someone had crocheted. I know I didn’t make the flower, but I can’t remember how it came into my possession The flower seemed like a good fit on the tree, even though it has nothing to do with cherries.
I’m a little concerned about what the block will demand next. At some point, I need to get back to my original plan with the fabric collection and beads sitting on the ironing board. They’re quiet now, but mark my words they’re going to start yelling at me soon.
I had a couple of conversations about the value of writing recently. One was with someone who, to my knowledge, never thought about writing until he became involved with a writer. He asked a lot of questions about the current state of publishing. I got the feeling he was trying to figure out a way of asking if I thought writing was worth it without seeming rude.
I didn’t exactly answer the unspoken question. The short answer is yes, writing is worth it. The longer answer depends on how you define value. If you judge your writing by how much money it earns, you may not be able to justify the time invested. I talked about the value of indie publishing, because an indie author doesn’t have to live by the New York Times bestseller list. An indie author’s book can take off at any time, as long as the writer is willing to be a marketer. I wasn’t promising that anyone would make money, only trying to show him it could be done.
The reason I didn’t answer the unspoken question was because I had the feeling this man was trying to get up the courage to write his own story. Since I didn’t want to seem rude, I didn’t press him. Instead, I tried to show him the happiness I feel having written (and published) some of my stories. That’s the true reason writing is worth it to me. I may not be able to show a great return on investment on a balance sheet, but I can point to my words on paper, my stories in anthologies, my imagination running free in the real world. It’s a fragile claim to have made my mark, but it shows I tried – and isn’t that all any of us can do?
Last week I was kvetching about my quilting block – the lack of creativity, not a specific pattern – and got some lovely support. This week, I want to send that good spirit back to all of you because (drum roll, please) my mojo is sorta kinda maybe back. At any rate, I have a reason to take out a collection of fabrics that has been haunting me for ages. The new Challenge project includes a piece of fabric that we must use to choose colors. You can see just a bit of it below the drawer with white beads. My fabric collection includes most of those colors, and the beads will provide the rest. I don’t know what I’m going to make yet, but I am thrilled with the return to the fun of playing with fabric and embellishments. This is a definite win for me. I hope your week includes wins for you.