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Sunday, February 7, 2021

Writing and Knitting: a Comparison from Psychedelic Batwing Sea Slugs to Pointed Sticks by Molly MacRae


When people ask me if I knit, I usually joke and say, “Yes. I’ve been taught many times.” Both statements are true. I have been taught many times and by now I’m a whiz at knitting flat rectangular things. If you can call knitting half a dozen flat rectangular things being any kind of a whiz. 

my most recent knitted flat rectangular thing

Once, I did spread my wings and knitted a rectangular thing with ruffled edges that was awfully nice. It was a scarf that reminded me of a psychedelic batwing sea slug.*

But here’s the thing; every time I think about picking up knitting needles, it’s like facing the blank page at the beginning of a writing project. I lack confidence. I’m daunted. For the writing, you’d think after fourteen published books and thirteen published short stories (seven of them in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine), that I wouldn’t look at blank pages and whine to myself that I have no idea how to write. But I do. Every time.

So how do I get past page-paralysis in my writing? First by letting myself wander around and play with story ideas the way I might look at yarns, colors, and textures in a yarn shop. No commitment, just looking, dreaming, and wondering “what if?” I keep careful notes, like dropped breadcrumbs, along my meandering trail—ideas, questions, answers, free-writing, bits of dialog I hear from the characters suddenly living in my head, and rabbit holes of research (you should see my notes and the links I’ve saved about arsenic for the book I’m writing now—yow). Next comes a vague outline. Think of the outline as the kind of knitting pattern I can follow—simplistic. From there a story or book, like a piece of knitting, becomes a math problem. Add a certain number of words or stitches every day, do it for weeks or months or years and, in each case, you end up with something you can be proud of—another flat rectangular thing.

my most recent written flat rectangular thing

And think of this; if you work longhand with a pen or pencil, whether you’re writing or knitting, you’re creating something with tools humans have been using pretty much forever—pointed sticks. Kind of awesome.

What sharp tips or tricks do you use to get started on a daunting project?

*If you recently enjoyed Connie Berry’s and Susan Van Kirk’s excellent posts featuring the excitement (and dangers) of falling down rabbit holes of research, you might want to engage in some now. Go online and search for images of psychedelic batwing sea slugs. Some types are rufflier than others, but they’re all cool, and you won’t be sorry you took the time.


Molly MacRae writes the award-winning, national bestselling Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries and the Highland Bookshop Mysteries. Visit Molly on Facebook and Pinterest, connect with her on Twitter  or Instagram.



Kait said...

LOL – I looked up the psychedelic batwing sea slug. I’m glad I did. I would have thought it was a nudibranch, my favorite underwater pals. I’ll see your arsenic and raise you castor beans! Sometimes I think the research is my favorite part. Usually when I’m staring at the blank page. I just know there’s something I should look up to make the page come to life.

Thank you for the peek into your process – for both flat rectangular things.

Susan said...

Really interesting, Molly! I, too, looked up those slugs and the colors are gorgeous. I leep thinking all this research will keep our brains young, right?

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Bat wing sea slugs are getting lots of google hits today! They're gorgeous and remind me of orchids.

I love research, particularly poisons. I've published stories about monkshood and giant hogweed.

Tammy Euliano said...

What a great blog. Definitely want a bouquet of batwing sea slugs.

Jim Jackson said...

Molly -- what an interesting insight into your writing process. I think I need to take up knitting.

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Molly, for your encouraging words. I've just turned in book three of my series, and my mind is absolutely blank about the story line for the next one. I guess if I think about it long enough, a storyline may come.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Love your comparing writing and knitting. Every day the blank page makes me nervous. Not knitting, though, something I've been doing off and on since I was six. Knitting gives you patterns, and I often start a project following one then making changes. Writing books, we have to make up our own patterns from the start.

Molly MacRae said...

Thanks for all the kind comments on my first WWK blog. It's a pleasure to be here with you. Glad you liked the comparison and the batwing sea slugs. Tammy, I'm not sure how they'd fare in a bouquet, but I'm liking the image. Margaret, monkshood and giant hogweed are diabolical! I used cow parsnip in a story - not deadly, but not easy to ignore and can give a culprit away. Jim, I look forward to seeing a picture of the first flat rectangular thing you knit. Margaret, if I need help with my next flat rectangular knitting, I know who to contact.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

I love how you talk about page-paralysis. Thanks also for referencing previous blog posts! (And those batwing sea slugs!)