Down the research rabbit-hole

I think one of the things I like best about writing historical fiction is doing the research. It’s an excuse to read deeply about various historical subjects, and feel like I’m doing it for a good purpose beyond just increasing my general knowledge. (It’s also a great way to procrastinate writing.)

Currently, I’m writing a novel about a medieval priest who is dealing with the issues that the church was grappling with at the time, especially clerical celibacy, which, happily for me, is still topical today. Delving into the Catholic Church’s views on women and celibacy has led to the following reading list:

– The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Tests and Modern Scandals by Anthony Le Donne

– Forged: Writing in the Name of God  by Bart Ehrman

– Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

– Parish Priests and Their People by Edward L. Cutts

– Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter by April D. Deconick

– Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church by Uta Ranke-Heinemann

…among many others.

Interesting stuff, but I have fallen down the rabbit hole of books about (a) the historical Jesus and (b) the early Christian church. It is pretty far from what the novel is actually about, since most of what has been discovered about the historical Jesus would not be known by a medieval priest, and many of the heterodox Christianities of the early movement would have been forgotten by then as well.

Still, it’s hard to reorient my reading back to the medieval period. Modern writing about the life of Jesus and the early Christian church are fascinating from a cultural and meta-historical perspective. This is an area of history far removed from our time, with sketchy written records, yet it has been pored over and researched more than any other ancient era, so in addition to being interesting in its own right, these books give a picture of what is possible when a large number of historical minds apply themselves to one particular area of history. This set of books represent the very limit of what can be known about any era of ancient history.

Elaine Pagels teaches a class at Princeton known colloquially as the “Faith-buster”, because what one discovers when researching early Christianity is that the canonical and non-canonical (i.e. books excluded from the official gospels) are rife with mistakes and forgery. The council that codified the gospel chose the books to walk a fine line between a number of warring ideas about the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and how he was begotten, to bring the greatest number of Christians into the orthodox fold.

There are people whose faith is sorely tried, and even “busted” by discovering all the human politics and foibles that went into crafting the books that many people take as literal, inerrant truth today. I am not a Christian at all, so for me it is an intellectual and empathetic exercise to see how these revelations affect people’s world views. Furthermore, I am trying to keep judgment out of it, but knowing the facts, as well as they can be known, about the history and forgeries that went into the gospels, seems like an object lesson in not viewing any one book or idea as the literal, inerrant truth. Truth, especially spiritual truth, runs into trouble when it is viewed as black or white, evil falsehood or pure truth.

Reading these books also shows the ways stories, ideas, and institutions evolve over time to fit the needs of those who tell them, so it is interesting from a meta-narrative perspective as well. Readers and writers of novels know that there are fictions that communicate truth better than bald facts ever can, and religion may be at its best when its narrative is built around that.

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A Friday Roundup

I used to keep another blog where I made random updates on my life and whatever I was thinking. Self-indulgent, yes, but it gave me a place to muse about things. I miss that.

I used to do a Friday meme called RPW: Reading, Planning, Wearing.

Reading: I just finished reading Forged: Writing in the Name of Godabout forgeries in the New Testament, and from other early Christian writers. Fascinating stuff. Brings up questions of what “truth” really means. Certainly, there is good proof that plenty of what is in the Bible is not literal truth, or written by the people it purports to be written by, but the unanswerable question is how much that fact affects peoples’ view of it as some sort of spiritual truth. Now, I’m not a Christian, nor do I have any book that I view as the ultimate truth, so it’s less of an important issue for me, but it is interesting to see how others grapple with it.

I am also reading A Place of Greater Safety by Hillary Mantel, which is her novel about the French Revolution.

Planning: I am planning a low-key weekend. Some strongman stuff, some cooking, some writing. Definitely watching some more of BBC’s The Musketeers, in which many swashes are buckled, D’Artagnan is a murder-puppy, everyone flirts with everyone, and is dashing, and Cardinal Richelieu is evil and brilliant.

Wearing: It’s cool enough to wear jeans, so that is what I am doing. Blue straight-leg jeans, a sleeveless v-neck gray top, an open blue wrap top over that. I’m also wearing a wire and sunstone necklace from Wyrding Studios. Sunstone is associated with creativity, and I never mind giving myself that suggestion. I attempted a double waterfall braid today, but it came out a bit messy, so I slapped the whole thing up into a bun.

Some other things:

– It’s been a very tough week in the world, with the suicide of Robin Williams, and the injustice brought to light and ongoing in Ferguson, MO. I realize it is a great privilege to be able to hide my head under the covers and try to distract myself, but that is what I will be doing for a little while.

– FILM CRIT HULK published a great essay on the use of humor in Guardians of the Galaxy, and how it is driven by character.

This was a wonderful post about how Dead Poets Society saved the author’s life. I too was a bookish 14-year-old when I saw that movie. Now that I have studied and taught literature, I see the ways in which Keating may be teaching literature in a facile way, but I agree 100% with the post that the most important thing Keating gave the students was seeing them as human beings with passion and purpose, not as nuisances or extensions of their parents’ will.

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Writing Habits

 Many people have said it before me: writing is definitely a mix of inspiration and perspiration. More of the latter, but there is a balance that must be struck.

Before I got my MFA, I set a schedule for myself, writing 1500-2000 words 6 days a week, taking 2 hours after work each night to do it, and a few hours each weekend day. It didn’t always happen, but that constant dedication definitely produced a lot of words and gave me a good habit of discipline. When I was editing, I changed that to a certain number of chapters or number of words edited, or simply a certain amount of time put in to editing.

There was so much more time to write when I was in school. In many ways, I produced less work. I was constantly preparing something for submission, and I had several different projects going. It was an extremely positive experience, but now that I’m recovering my old habits, I’m learning that some of them don’t work for me any more. Some things that are still important:

– Be obsessed with your project. You’re going to spend years with it; it must be something that can hold your attention. I like to sit on novel ideas for at least a couple years before committing myself to writing the whole novel. If an idea is still memorable and interesting to me after 2-3 years, it is an idea that I can stick with for the long haul.

– If at all possible, put at least 500 words a day into a rough draft. It doesn’t matter if they’re good. It doesn’t matter if I keep them, although I usually do at least until the rough draft is done. Interacting with the work as many days in a row as possible keeps it fresh in my mind, and keeps my mind working out the problems with it in the background. It also keeps my excitement with it high. 500 words is not very many–with Write Or Die it takes me about 11 minutes to write 500 words–but it’s enough to make me put myself back in the world of my novel again.

– Write more if possible, though. 500 words is not very many.

– If I run into a snag of any sort, or just don’t feel like writing, I write about my problems longhand, in a blank book. I try to ask myself what the problem is, what is fueling the reluctance. Am I tired of the project as a whole? If so, why? Is there something specific that doesn’t feel right? Can I write myself into a different way of looking at it. As of last night, I hadn’t worked on my current project in at least a week, but as soon as I sat down with my blank book and wrote about what was troubling me with it, I realized I wasn’t tired of the project as a whole, but felt like the main character was too cynical to do the things I wanted him to do in the denouement. I wrote about it until I found a more cynical reason that he would do those things, a reason which made sense to me. Then I had no trouble writing the bit of the book that came next.

But there’s a major habit I’m thinking about changing: I don’t like writing at night as much as I used to. I used to exercise first thing in the morning, because I wanted to get it done immediately, and then I went to work and put in a 9 or 10 hour day. I liked the lack of inhibitions that a glass of wine and the tiredness of a long day brought me. I needed that more than I needed the energy and motivation I have early in the day.

Now I’ve mostly conquered those inhibitions, and I need the morning energy and optimism. I’m a morning person, and I definitely agree, in principle, that you should do the most important things as early as possible, so they are done. So I’m working on rearranging my schedule to write in the morning, then go to the gym, then go to work around noon. Then I can always put in some more writing time in the evening if I have the energy and motivation, but it won’t be required. I hope it works!

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Ahem, sorry. Once you read a lot of Film Crit Hulk, it’s hard to talk any other way for a while. Regardless of Film Crit Hulk’s stylistic choice to WRITE LIKE HULK ALL THE TIME, WHICH MAKES SENSE BECAUSE HE IS HULK, he is one of the best thinkers on storytelling that I’ve ever read.

I’ve been a fan of his blog and his posts on Badass Digest for a long time. There is simply no one writing about storytelling the way he does, in a way that both opens my eyes and resonates with my beliefs about storytelling. This post, for instance, on the importance of dramatizing characters, told through the lens if criticizing the recent Man of Steel, is a must-read if you’re interested in any kind of storytelling, even  if you haven’t seen the movie and never plan to. (I have never seen the movie and never plan to. Superman is not my jam.)

His archive is a treasure trove of meditations on writing and film-making, and now he’s written a book: Screenwriting 101. Disregard the pedestrian title. The first 2/3s of this book are a meditation on the purposes and paths of storytelling. After a wonderful exegesis on why humans tell stories at all, he goes through traditional, often reductive, ways to look at storytelling, like the 3 act structure, or the hero’s journey. He talks about why they became prevalent, and why they are flawed ways to look at telling a story. One of his big points is that the ways we analyze stories as academics, breaking them down into component parts or repeatable beats, is not very helpful for learning how to build stories, because these maps mistake form for function. It is not important that the hero refuses the call, per se, it is important who the hero is and why he refuses the call, if he refuses the call.

The Hulk talks about viewing stories through a lens of character and theme, which is something that works very well for me. He talks about economy, doing the most with the least words or screen time, and the importance of empathetic characters. Every scene should dramatize character and theme, ever character should dramatize the theme and other characters, the theme should show us things about the characters…

And most importantly, he talks about the how: approaches to constructing (“breaking”) stories, to figure out their beats. His character trees are fairly standard, but the idea of looking at the arc of each relationship between two people, making each person represent a different way of looking at the theme, is something that I find very helpful.

I’ve often felt when wrestling with a novel that it’s like punching a pillow, or trying to put together (or take apart) a very complicated knot. Each piece connects to every other piece, and pulling one throws the whole thing off. Film Crit Hulk does not deny or try to minimize the difficulty and complexity of telling a story. Instead he outlines various tools for thinking about it, and then he talks about how knowing these things is good, but practice is more important, that the writing itself teaches you–something I’ve always believed.

Looking too much at theme can sound like it leads to preachy stories, but I would argue that it actually makes a story feel more cohesive. The challenges that a character needs to go through to grow should reflect the theme of the story, and so, in a well constructed story, every scene will dramatize both character and theme. I’m breaking down a story right now where the theme is the importance of finding one’s own moral compass, and of the danger of all-or-nothing moral thinking. A theme like that can lend itself to an infinity of events and choices to dramatize it, so grounding it in a particular set of characters, time and place (in this case 12th century Europe, involving the key players in the church controversies of the time), narrows in the set of possible choices.

I have a love-hate relationship with writing manuals. Often they feel too prescriptive, or they make the endeavor seem easy, which it is not. Even to write a trite, flat novel takes a lot of time and work. Film Crit Hulk’s book acknowledges the difficulty, and explores the ways that we can think about stories not to make them easier, but to get deeper into them, to understand how they work.

Film Crit Hulk always comes back to our human reasons for needing stories, and that resonates with me. Many of the books I read at NYU this past semester with Zadie Smith were writers wrestling with the question of whether it’s even moral to tell other people’s stories. Nabokov in Pnin, and David Foster Wallace in everything he wrote. Richard Yates, in Easter Parade. Those books are interesting to me, but not for that question, but because they also wrestle with the question of how to tell stories morally, not just if. Film Crit Hulk has done his wrestling with that (HE VERY STRONG) and come up with some helpful ideas and ways of thinking about story, and he writes about them in a funny and passionate way. 

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Sometimes It’s Hard

This weekend I finished a read through of my viking novel and got it back to my agent. For those of you wondering about the submission and getting sold process, for me it’s gone like this, after the get-an-agent-interested-in-my-writing part of the process:

1. She reads it. Her assistants read it. They all create 4-page single spaced notes on what works and what doesn’t. We brainstorm ideas together. Certain plot things need big overhauls.

2. I come up with potential fixes for the big plot things in an outline form. We have several back-and-forths about those. The changes are approved.

3. Major rewrite. Cut 70,000 words, write 60,000 new ones. Resubmit.

4. She reads it. Her assistants read it. More plot notes, these ones more minor, but still not small.  It takes 3 meetings to get through all of them, but they’re more granular now.

5. Make plot changes. Cut 175,000 words down to 140,000 words. Re-read again for typos and whether these plot changes make sense. Tear hair out. Realize that this is probably the 20th time I’ve read this novel, and that is a lot, and as much as I love these characters and this story, I am tired of them right now.

6. Send it back to my agent.

Those 6 steps have taken 20 months, because the manuscript of an unknown writer is not the highest priority for an agent. This is all before even trying to sell it. My impression is that these days editors want a novel that is as close to perfect as possible when it comes across their desks. Agents do a lot of editing. There may be another round.

People ask me “when is your novel coming out?” The answer is: not for a long time, and maybe never. No one wants to hear that and I don’t want to say it, but there’s a reason why people say “writing is hard”. And it’s not just because making something up from nothing is hard, and all the research is hard, and just typing those first 180,000 words took a long time. Not just because I can’t count the number of dinners and social events and other things I’ve turned down so I can get some writing time in after work.

It’s because I’ve done all that, off and on for 10 years, more on than off for the past 5, and this book may not get published, at least not on the mainstream market. The next book may not get published. Even if they do, the monetary rewards are often tiny. The extrinsic rewards for writing don’t balance the sacrifices. The intrinsic rewards have to.

Even if this book doesn’t sell, and I have to make the tough choice of keeping it on the shelf, seeing if I can sell the next book I write, and making a market for this one, or going the self-publishing route, even if the book after that doesn’t sell, I know I’m going to keep writing. I know because I’ve tried not to, and it doesn’t work. Oh, sure, I can go a month or two or three where all I write is blog posts and grocery lists and emails, but then I will need to start writing stories again. It always sounded like bullshit to me when people said that, and for years I tried to get my creative fulfillment in other places: work, knitting, cooking. But I always came back.

Now it’s a little comforting. No matter what happens, no matter if no one ever wants to read what I write, I’m going to keep doing it. What that means is that the time I’ve taken hasn’t been wasted. Whatever extrinsic rewards do or do not come, it’s what I’m going to do. (Right now I’m trying to go the traditional publishing route, because that’s what I want, but I am lucky to live in a time when there are many different ways to get readers.) This not a resolution, this is not me buckling down or finding motivation, it is just knowing myself: this is what I do. It is what I have always done, and what I will continue to do. I can protest and make it harder for myself, or I can accept that.

The rewards or lack thereof don’t actually matter in the day-to-day of my life. Of course they would be nice. They would be wonderful.  I could stop answering the “when is your book coming out?” question in a way that makes people uncomfortable. But in terms of making decisions about how to spend my time, whether to “waste” it writing things, that decision has already been made.

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The Post-MFA Life

It’s a cool and sunny day in Manhattan. I went for a run this morning along the Hudson, then read some stuff on the internet while I ate breakfast. Subway to work, where I have a combination of interesting tasks. Tonight I will drink a glass of ice herb tea while doing a little pleasure reading (1Q84 by Haruki Murakami), eat dinner, then get back to editing my novel.Post-MFA life is pretty good so far.

I’m working on a second, and hopefully almost final round of edits with my agent. I’m cutting the book down from 175,000 words to 140,000 words, combining some plot points, and generally making it a better book. I’ve really been enjoying the process, because her ideas are making the book tighter and better, and the things she wants to keep are the things I love the best. I feel like I’m learning a lot about how to plot and write from her, which is good because I never want to stop learning and stop becoming a better writer.

So far, working 30 hours a week is a good amount. I’m lucky to have found a place where I can do interesting work that is not full time. I wouldn’t mind a little more leisure time, but a busy schedule tends to make me productive.

Some of my classmates in NYU’s MFA program would talk about writing for 8+ hours at a stretch. Except at the end of a novel, or a serious, major revision, I’ve never written that much. If I write too much, I burn myself out for the next day. When I’m writing new material, I’m best if I average no more than 2000 words a day, no more than 6 days a week, which usually takes me 1-2.5 hours.

With editing, I can put in a little more time, 2-5 hours a day. The smaller the changes, the more time I can spend. Sentence-level tweaks don’t burn me out the way giant revisions do.

I’m glad I figured most of this out before doing the MFA program. There is a vibrant writing community online, involving NaNoWriMo, writing bloggers, and other forums and meeting places, where people can get good advice about writing without having to figure it out in the higher pressure world of grad school.

It’s amazing how little time it takes for things that drove me a little bonkers about the MFA program to feel silly and pointless. If people want dismiss whole genres of literature, let ’em, as long as I’m not taking classes with them anymore. My agent suggested I take a Screen Writing class to learn more about tight plotting, and I may do that, once I feel the need to be in a class situation again. Right now, I’m just enjoying the freedom.

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Thoughts upon graduation

NYUToday is pretty much my official graduation from NYU’s Creative Writing MFA program. There’s a reading and a party to celebrate tonight, and some various other parties. I have one more class after graduation because of scheduling conflicts. I need to track down some signatures for my thesis. But basically, this is it. I’m done. I’m not doing any of the official NYU graduation events. Been there, did that from undergrad. Found them mildly tedious then, am glad of the opportunity not to do them this time.

I’m glad I’m done, so I will get my reading and writing time back, but a Creative Writing MFA is much more about the process, than the outcome. It’s not a degree that leads to jobs and prestige.

When I was in the process of applying to MFA programs (and I applied to 12, I think), I dreamed that I got into NYU and woke up thinking, “Nah, that will never happen. It is my first choice.” But I did get in, and went, and I’m glad I did. My reasons for doing an MFA were:

1. To make a commitment to writing. As Jonathan Safran Foer said in one of our classes, “Writing is the only job where you wake up every day and wonder if you’re going to do it today.” Doing an MFA is a good way to make that commitment serious.

2. To meet other committed writers. I took several classes in NYC, which has a lot of more casual programs for adult students, but I wanted to be with people who were maybe grappling with bigger writing challenges than those in some of my classes, who had mastered the basics.

3. To expand my reading. I read a lot, and fairly broadly, but I knew there were whole areas I’d neglected. NYU exposed me to the Creative Writing canon, which overlaps with the English Lit canon, but not a ton.

4. To teach Creative Writing. Which I did, and which was highly enjoyable. I’d love to do it again someday.

5. To take classes with giants in the literary world, and I did. I will be thinking about what I read with Rick Moody and Zadie Smith for the rest of my life.

6. To write things I might not otherwise try writing, and I did that as well, especially in my first year, when I wrote short stories, and in Rick Moody’s class, where we had weekly writing assignments based on our readings.

I also discovered some things I did not expect, but probably should have:

1. More or less, an MFA is about ART. I’ve always viewed writing more as a craft, and art, if it exists, comes by grace, which cannot be taught, but many professors made attempts to look at the books we read and our fellow students’ work as art. I’m still not sure how good I am at looking at writing like this, or whether I think art can be taught, but it was an interesting way of looking at writing.

2. In pop culture, it may be the age of the SFF nerd, but whether non-literary genre is acceptable or not is still very much a debate in the MFA world. One of the reasons I wanted to go to NYU is I knew they were interested in students who wrote in all kinds of genres, and I did find that, but people who do not write contemporary literary fiction are still outliers in MFA programs. Even historical fiction is a bit outre.

3. I’m wasn’t very qualified to read certain kinds of experimental fiction, but I could be taught. I love stories, with plots and characters. A traditional plot arc with hooks and stakes, with pages I love to turn, is my favorite kind of story. But I was exposed to W. G. Sebald, Jenny Erpenbeck, Thomas Bernardt, Teju Cole and many others, who expanded my idea of what a novel can be and what it can do.

4. The thing that teaches you the most about writing is writing. The next thing is reading. Far down the line after that are other teachers you may have. Not that they weren’t great, but I’ve learned more simply by writing, throwing things away, and trying again, over the last ten years, than I did from any teacher. I think writing teaching is a lot like athletic coaching. You say the right things, the platitudes, the shop-worn wisdom. You give specific suggestions when you think of them. But they only sink in and make a difference when the student has worked herself to a place where she’s ready to hear it. The reason we have so many platitudes, and repeat them so many times is that you never know when will be the right time for someone to hear them, or which combination of words, which mean almost the exact same thing as another combination of words, will be the thing that clicks with someone.

So. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I’m done. Nothing is going to change very much in my day to day life, except fewer classes, and choosing what I want to read more. And that’s as it should be. It was my 2 year launch into prioritizing the writing life above all other commitments.

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The hard-hard thing

mountain-01[I abandoned this blog for a while because a WordPress update killed some of the old posts, and also, school was taking up a lot of time, but I’m getting back to it now.]

This is a post I wasn’t sure whether I should make it at my fitness blog or here, because it’s about fitness and life and how we choose to spend our time.

There was a training blog I used to read that had a great post about hard-hard things vs. easy-hard things. Yes, running a marathon or deadlifting 500 pounds is hard, but that sort of training can also be used as an escape from the actual hard parts of life. He would train people who were going through nasty divorces, or who had failing businesses, who put all of their energy into some huge physical goal, and used those as an escape from the hard things in their lives.

There’s nothing wrong with staying fit or having big ambitious fitness goals. But his point was that if you use the easy-hard thing (running a marathon) to escape the hard-hard thing (doing the soul searching it takes to figure out why a marriage is failing), then that is a problem for your growth as a person.

I remembered this again when I was listening to a podcast interview with Joe De Sena, the founder of Spartan Races and writer of Spartan Up!. He had some great stories on the podcast, and I definitely want to read his book, but something about the interview made me uncomfortable. He describes himself as being someone who always wants to work 20-hour days, and always wants to find other people to work for him who are willing to put in that amount of time. He particularly liked hiring Eastern Europeans, because they would work that hard. (Questionable ethnic stereotypes? Check!)

He runs these Spartan Death Races, which are obstacle races where his intent “is to break you”, which last up to 72 hours, and they keep on going until all but 15% of the participants have dropped out. He sets the competitors all kinds of grueling, dangerous and pointless tasks until he’s broken most of their spirits and they quit. The people who win, he says, are the people he wants to know.


I have no doubt I could be broken quickly by something like that, and want to quit. And sure, too many people quit too many things.

It’s definitely good for me to challenge myself in all kinds of arenas, but I don’t think that hard work is positive simply because it is hard work. After all, digging a ditch is hard work, but very few parents want their kid to grow up to be a ditch digger.

But as an over-achiever, a big challenge is balance, and putting my energy in the right place. I don’t want to be someone who does hard things just because they’re hard. I believe that all of the things that are really worth doing are hard, but not everything hard is worth doing.

That is the hard-hard thing. Not to quit something because it’s hard, but because it’s not right for me. And not to keep doing something because it’s hard (or easy) but because it is right. It’s a lot more useful and conducive to a happy life than this harden-the-fuck-up attitude.

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A Day In the Life

It has come to my attention that my grandmother thinks that all I do is lift weights, because that’s what I post about most on Facebook. And I do think lifting weights is a great hobby to keep my mind off the frustrations of writing. Lifting weights has clear, concrete goals and payoff. I lift weights, and I get stronger. I feed the monkey on my back that wants constant achievement.

Writing and teaching have far less instant, obvious payoffs, and I like to post positive things on Facebook, for the most part. I’ve had days of teaching where I think

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Writing and Knitting (and Lifting Weights)

Last night I went to a reading/conversation at The Center For Fiction for Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, edited by Ann Hood, who read her essay, and in conversation with one of my favorite teachers from NYU, Elissa Schappell.

The book, from what I understand, uses knitting or learning to knit, or family members that knit, as a jumping off point to talk about other things, for the most part, rather than being about the intricacies of knitting. No knit snobs allowed.

But how can you be snobby when someone learned to knit to give their hands something to do when they mourned the death of a child, or said goodbye to a dying parent? The book contains a variety of perspectives, stories both funny and poignant. I definitely plan to read it at some point.

ETA: My mother-in-law is getting this book for me for Christmas/Hannukah! Awesome.

Hood and Schappell talked about if writers write like they knit. I’ve often thought that knitting a sweater bears some similarities to writing a novel:

1. They are big projects that take a lot of time and patience

2. They are 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

3. Sweaters/novels stand on the shoulders of those that have come before, and do well to follow certain rules, but can also be formed in many different ways.

And then me as a knitter/writer:

1. I like to do research first, putting together stitch patterns and a sweater pattern, never following any pattern exactly, but always having a moderate plan.

2. I am ambitious. I am not a swatcher, a hat-knitter, or a short story writer. I like to knit beautiful, intricate sweaters on small needles. I write long historical novels. So far, anyway.

3. I knit mostly for myself. At least when I’m knitting sweaters. I write and plan the books I want to read.

4. I am impatient, and begin before fully planning, and do my planning along the way.

5. Successes and failures are big and dramatic. I can work for months or years, slave over something, and it may not be usable, wearable, readable in the end. Or it might be a sweater that every time I put it on, I think: this might be the most beautiful sweater in the entire world.

But as a somewhat serious strength athlete, there are ways I think writing is like getting stronger.

1. You have to trust the process.

2. There is a lot to learn, and you have to do some things that don’t seem that helpful but actually do help in the long run.

3. You have to be patient. You’re lifting things and its only getting slightly easier, but then months go by, and if you keep doing it, at the end, you are stronger, and you have the word count for a novel, if not the structure yet.

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