Once again I made plans; once again the universe laughed. This time my plan was to take advantage of caring for my husband after his shoulder surgery to get my sewing machine serviced and clear out some of the piles. I packed the machine off to the shop (you can see the empty well where it usually lives in the photo above) and covered the sewing table with stacks to sort. That’s when things went awry.
I’m not sure if the universe is rewarding me or just keeping me on my toes. Some of the changes to my planned schedule are welcome. My husband is recovering faster than I expected. This is very good news, as there is a reason I never considered a career in health care. Then Dublin Sewing Center called in less than a week to say my machine was ready – yay! They always give themselves some wiggle room on their estimates, but still I expected to be without my machine for many days. During the height of the first lockdown a simple service meant a three-week turnaround. Still, the picture below will illustrate why I’m not sure if the universe is giving me a break or a lesson.
I have many, many, many piles in my sewing room. Sorting through everything would take months, but I was certain I could get through the top layer in a week. That’s why I spread the easiest to reach piles on every flat surface in the sewing room. Now my sewing machine is back and I can’t set it up until I decide what to do with these fabrics.
Of course, there is nothing like a deadline to motivate me, and my deadline is getting the machine out of the living room as quickly as possible. Yesterday would have been good. If push comes to shove, I’ll put some of the fabric collections back in the general stash drawers, because I can already tell that I don’t have the same artistic sensibilities as I did when I thought those fabrics actually looked good together.
Perhaps the universe is gently laughing at me, perhaps it is rewarding me after all. Once I get back to sewing, does it really matter?
Years ago, I let the kids dye eggs Ukrainian style. It was an all-day production, but the eggs were worth it. I displayed them every year and bought other eggs for decorations, and even some spring-themed serving dishes for our Easter dinner. Then the kids left for college, and pulling out all the decorations and dishware for just two people didn’t seem worth it.
Yeah, I know, kind of silly. Why shouldn’t I take the time to decorate even if I’m the only one who will see it? And isn’t that the same with my writing life?
My novels aren’t best sellers, and they may never be made into movies. Still, I write because I have stories to tell. Even if I were the only person to read the stories, that’s enough to keep writing (shameless self-promotion alert, all of the Chenille novels are on Smashwords.com, and the last is on Amazon). Deadlines help me to finish the story, so I’ll continue to submit to contests and anthologies, and I’ll still write query letters to agents. Whether I get an award or contract, well, that’s a topic for another blog. For now, I will let the joy of seeing my words come together be worth the effort, just as the joy of seeing my pretty egg collection is worth it.
Although the plants may shiver in fear when I approach, they are reminding me of my old color theory lessons. Today, I am reminded that green is indeed a neutral. To be honest, any color can be a neutral if it is greyed enough, but that’s a topic for another blog. Green, however, is special. Think of all the plants you have in your garden, all the different colors of flowers, stems, and trunks. They’re all sitting on top of the various greens of leaves and grasses. When was the last time you examined the different greens? The greens above are on the cool side. The succulent below almost registers as a yellow with tints of green. Although there are no flowers in the photos, I can envision slashes of pinks, or oranges and reds, or purples and blues. I use the word “slashes” deliberately – using green as a background doesn’t demand that I make a landscape quilt. I made a dozen green backgrounds for applique and/or beading and not a single one is designed to be a landscape quilt. So, the next time you are thinking about doing something a little different, consider using green as your neutral. You might be surprised at how much you like the results.
I am taking over a few gardening chores. This is only temporary, because I’m not an attentive gardener (I almost killed a coleus once, and those things are practically indestructible). As I was watering the plants, I had to actually look at them. That’s when I realized that a couple were four times the size I thought they were. The juniper above hadn’t grown up, but it had grown out. The grevillea below had grown both up and out, but because it was in a corner by the fence I never noticed. This got me thinking about the way my subplots can sprout up and take over the entire story seemingly overnight. What’s really happening, of course, is that I haven’t been paying attention, and in my joy at getting words on the page I’ve let myself become distracted. I’m not the person to prune the plants, but I can certainly prune my subplots. The landscape of my main plot will be all the more attractive for the effort.
My quilting time will be constrained for the next few weeks. The good news is that my projects will be waiting for me in the same condition as when I left them. This is why I love quilting. I took up the art at a time when I had maybe fifteen minutes a day to myself. I couldn’t write in fifteen minute increments. Paint and light change if you leave the work. Don’t even get me started on trying to crochet when at the best of times I have issues with counting. Quilting is stable and patient. The fabric will be delighted to see me when my husband’s shoulder is healed.
I’ve been reminded that writing clear prose is not as easy as it seems. Not one of the instruction manuals/pamphlets/emails that I’ve suffered through in the last few weeks has been as precise as I would have liked. I’m certain the writers thought they were being precise. They know what they mean, and how their systems/devices work, and if people don’t understand they need to pay more attention.
Readers deserve better, even if (especially if?) all they have to deal with is a two-page instruction pamphlet. My critique partners are more than willing to point out the holes in my prose – when I’ve used a word that isn’t exactly what I meant, when what I thought was on the page was still lurking in my mind, when the logic of my plot structure crumbles. Working with them has made me a better writer, and has made me more willing to scrap my clever little paragraphs if it turns out I was being too clever for my own good. There is tremendous value in finding someone willing to look you in the eye and ask, “Is that really what you meant to write?”
The pile of scraps on the low shelf underneath my design wall interfered with my work once too often last week. I took an entire afternoon to sort and stow those scraps. Most of them fit in the bins I had labeled and waiting. I also took the opportunity to sort through a growing pile of scraps on the floor in front of the shelf which prevented me from reaching those bins, which was why the scrap pile on the shelf had grown so large. Now I have a clear view of my work-in-progress, a clear view of my scrap bins, and a clear path to the sewing table. It won’t last, but at least I have a picture.
All of my writing projects reached a point where I needed to let the words percolate. While I usually work in clutter (some may call it chaos), I decided to use the time that I wasn’t writing to sort my notes-to-self pile. I think it was looking at the price of houses in my neighborhood that inspired me. We’re going to need to plan any prospective move a year ahead of time in order for me to get all my stuff packed away.
I managed to clear off one section of my computer desk. This is the area I intended for my paper stand, the one I saved from my secretarial days, the one that allows me to secure paper drafts and notes in such a way that I can see them easily while I’m typing. I think I’ve been able to set up that stand at most half a dozen times in the last twenty years.
Since the clean, flat surface won’t last, I’m showing it to you now. I need documented proof that I do, in fact, understand the value of a non-cluttered workspace. I just can’t manage any sense of order for any length of time. If you do a better job of maintaining a tidy work station, keep that information to yourself.
I am at that point in my projects when all I have to show is the promise of progress. Nothing is finished enough to get more than a hint of how it will turn out. Like the buds in my tulip bed, there is more work to do before the show can begin. With a bit of effort, and a bit of luck, perhaps my projects will all be wonderful, like the flowers on the other side of the yard. I hope your projects will also fulfill the promise of their progress.
Mary Rakow spoke at Tri-Valley Writers on what editors or agents might do with your first page. She had a lot of good advice, but the best piece was about weighing the suggestions an editor might make. She told us the advice we should take is the advice that makes us say joyfully, “Yes, that’s exactly what the story needs.”
That seems like a simple thing, but it requires two decisions from us as writers. First, it requires our commitment to making the story better. The only time I could ever say for certain that I had done all that needed doing was when I briefly volunteered as a bookkeeper. If all the numbers added up at the end, my job was finished. Every other job, task, or project I’ve ever attempted has always left me knowing that the outcome could be better if I worked more. Deadlines and conflicting schedules often made that impossible, but I still knew there was room for improvement. As long as we accept that concept about our work, we’ll continue to grow as writers
The second requirement is that we pull ourselves out of denial and honestly look at each paragraph, each sentence, each word and be willing to let it go. That’s harder than you might think. Do it anyway. When you train yourself to approach your work honestly, you will find joy in critiques. After all, it’s helping you get closer to putting the brilliant story dancing in your head on the page, so others can enjoy it too.