Friday, March 11, 2011

A PATCHWORK PLOT



One of the things I enjoy almost as much as writing is quilting. There is more similarity between the two than one might think.

I love words. I feel joy in the power they give me to translate ideas into stories to share with other lovers of words. I also love color. I am fascinated by the way the mood of a color changes according to other colors near it. I enjoy playing with different shapes, curved or straight lines and the texture of fabric.

Choosing the fabric, the colors and pattern of a quilt is very like choosing the attributes of a fictional character. Combining dark and light shades is like working out the details of a storyline. Writing is almost completely intellectual; quilting is very tactile. When I’m working on a quilt, I’m compulsive about it and resent anything that keeps me away from it. The same is true when I’m deeply involved in a writing project.

A book begins as a tangle of ideas with only the glint of a story shining through. A quilt begins as a mishmash of fabrics with colors and patterns that clash. Both the writer and the quilter begin by examining their components, testing different ways of combining them, seeking an arrangement that will blend the conflicting parts into a harmonious whole. Both as a writer and a quilter, I find this part of the process pure pleasure.

Ah, but the next part – no fun at all. About halfway through a book, I invariably hit a wall. I’m besieged by doubt. Can I turn this idea into a story that readers will actually enjoy? Will they understand what I’m trying to say? Is the idea big enough for a whole book? Are my characters distinctive and yet universal? Will readers believe in them? At the root of all these niggling doubts is the real question, the twofold biggie: Am I really a writer? Can I finish this book?

Somewhere in the process of making a quilt, I wonder why I ever thought these colors worked together. Is this pattern too complicated for my skills? Will I be able to get all of the angles right, the points nice and sharp, the corners square? Will my patience last long enough to see it through? Will I finish this quilt?

When I finish a book, I feel an enormous sense of pride, but following that initial high, there’s a letdown. The ideas that have consumed my thoughts (and sometimes my dreams) are ready to stand on their own. It’s time to let them go. I need to explore new ideas – write another book. The same is true when I finish a quilt. I am delighted to be finished with it, but before long, my fingers itch to be engaged. I need to begin anew, but … can I do it again?

Of course I can – at least in part because my two obsessions feed each other.

8 comments:

I.J. Parnham said...

I reckon there's plenty of truth in the way writing links in with other activities. I like doing crosswords and when a plot finally feels as if it's working, I get a mental image of me filling in that last blank clue.

Sarita said...

Interesting post! I love quilting, also. In fact, I pieced a crib quilt this morning.

Sandy Cody said...

Ian, I like crosswords too - have been accused of hoarding the paper (falsely, of course).

Sarita, you pieced a quilt this morning - are you saying you did the whole thing in one morning?

Beate Boeker said...

I used to quilt, Sandy, though I did less patchwork than the quilting itself. I thought it was very soothing - a work very slow but beautiful. A bit like writing, you are right!

Sandy Cody said...

Beate, I agree that the quilting is soothing. It's a good time to think through plot ideas and get to know your characters better. Also a not-bad excuse to sit on your duff instead of chasing dustbunnies under the furniture.

Ellis Vidler said...

I'm not a quilter but I understand the similarities. "About halfway through a book, I invariably hit a wall. I’m besieged by doubt." But wow! Can I ever identify with that--it's the muddle in the middle that does me in. I think that's why I have so many half-finished books. But doesn't it make the ones you finish all the sweeter? Nice post, Sandy.

Sandy Cody said...

Thanks for stopping by, Ellis. It's the muddle in the middle that gets me too. I also have a few half-finished books. I never thought of them as making the finished ones all the sweeter, but I will in the future.

Shellie Foltz said...

Beautifully said! I find that anytime I write successfully (and by that I mean I finish the project I began and enjoy it throughout the process), it starts with a special interest or a new understanding of something in the world. I spend so much time in my head. We need our hands to be busy with other things, our eyes to be open to what's going on, all of our senses attuned to the inspiration all around us.