What Knitting Taught Me About Writing

hands knitting

Whether you’re spinning a yarn literally or figuratively, there’s no denying the fact that writing and knitting share a common bond. As someone who pursues both arts, here’s what I’ve learned over the years from knitting that has helped me become a better writer.

Lay the Groundwork

It only took one unintentionally enormous Icelandic sweater to learn the importance of laying groundwork. In the case of knitting, it’s making that ever important gauge swatch. Writing, too, benefits from a good swatching — instead of testing needles and yarn, I conduct a few reporting phone calls, jot down some lines in pentameter, do a search of what’s already been written. These often overlooked first steps ensure a happy outcome.

Be OK with a Crappy First Attempt

The first rows on my needles, much like the first words on my screen, won’t be perfect. Learn to accept—and celebrate, even—the lousy first draft. Mistakes happen, and anything can be fixed or improved with the help of editors, teachers, colleagues, and most of all, practice.

One Stitch at a Time

Knitting is not for the impatient. With so many stitches, it’s easy to get bogged down in the middle of a sweater. But, if I apply needles to yarn, and fingers to keyboard, over and over, one stitch, one word, one line — of pattern or poetry — at a time, soon I have enough momentum that I can’t turn back and I’ll find myself building something beautiful.

Find Your Perfection

It took a mauve mohair sweater to teach me to accept my flaws. I thought I’d finally finished a flawless piece, until I saw the goofs on the first row. I knew I’d never fix it, and wore the sweater with pride, regardless. Some errors, even in writing, are forgivable; being able to recognize and make peace with forgivable errors is key…If you’re only satisfied with perfection, you may never have anything to show for all your work. Not to mention you’d miss out on the joys of wearing a mohair-sweater.

Building Heirlooms Takes Time

The last lesson from knitting to writing is this: you won’t always know the effects of your work until later. A friend once sent me a Neruda ode to hand-knit hosiery, as a way of thanking me for socks I’d knit him. Similarly, people have told me how much they loved a particular line from decades-old poems. Years after writing an article about a charity, I learned that the piece had spurred exponential growth for the organization. I had little idea the work mattered so much. Point being: We never know where and when our craft’s ripples will reach.

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