by Kris Maze
Writers often set New Year's Resolutions to write more or to be more productive and I am not an exception. Some plans may not have turned out as productive as I would like. Maybe it was unexpected changes at work or writer's block, but I was not feeling up to writing over this winter month. Then over the holidays I spent some down-time with family and learned a new skill: knitting.
My mother uses her TV binge-watching time to knit blankets. Blankets. Plural. I am blessed with an industrious mother, who is also an entrepreneurial expert. She bought me a circular knitting circle and colors my kiddo would love and set me to work.
But I have writing to do!
And 2022 planning and manuscripts to read and blogs to post.
My to-do list goes on and on (as every writer's does), but ultimately I gave in. I was hypnotized by the click-clack of the needles and the softness of the yarn. I wanted the soft warmth over my knees as I crafted the blanket strand by strand.
Brain science supports learning a new skill because we gain neuroplasticity or the ability of our brains to regrow and reorganize. From learning and being outside our comfort zone. Testing this boost-the-brain theory, I dove into my new task and poked my way into a messy lane of knots.
Spinning a yarn is a phrase that has been around for centuries. The phrase has been synonymous for knitting together fishing nets while telling one heck of a tale. The idea of how knitting is similar to writing is not new, but new to me. It also helped me to move forward on my writing project when I was less than motivated. Perhaps it can motivate you as a writer, too.
Having someone at your elbow helps when you get stuck. And when learning something new, it is highly likely to run into a few snags. In writing, we can find our plot isn't working or we need help with characterizations. Luckily, we have many resources available to help us get unstuck. Try these if you need to find writer masters to help you.
Being in a group can benefit you, but you will also find that your experience can help others as well. Share your own talents and give back to your writer friends. Reading in a critique group or helping another writer with a computer issue can validate and energize your own writing. Be are part of your writing community and see where it takes you.
There are knitting masterpieces and there is the single loop technique I am trying to master. After nearly 11000 of these simple loops, you have a warm, unique, handcrafted blanket that you can share. A hundred thousand more, and then you can try a different technique.
In knitting, I started with a solid rectangle. No sleeves or fancy schmancie patterns. I needed to just get the loops and rhythm. I needed to find my groove.
We do this with writing as well. It is so simple, but not easy to get words on the page. Keep up a good writing habit and don't stress too much about the quality of the first draft. First drafts are all notoriously bad. Getting the words onto the page is a success.
We can quiet the inner editor and work with the words we have written. Keep it simple and keep writing. However you feel, keep going your next page is just a few words away.
The Rule of 4 can help writers maximize their writing time. Studies show that even the most amazing of humans can only focus at a high level for about 3 to 4 hours a day. That’s it.
So, given that we are mostly amazing humans with the ability to laser focus for under the time I would prefer to take a nap, how and when you spend that focus time can make a difference in how productive your writing life is.
Candy crush may be a good mental release, but is it getting your full attention your writing life could?
Is another hobby or activity eating up your attention? Writing? Social Media? Knitting? (hee hee) How are you using your 3 to 4?
I prefer to get my hours in during the morning when my mind is the most fresh. It also hasn’t had time for the daily grind to assault my mental energy yet. I try to keep it from draining my most quality focus time.
How much time does it take you to write a page? To create a scene? Do you spend more time in worldbuilding? Or do you like to dig into the minutia of deep editing? Find out what your writing habits are and keep track of the time you need to compete a project.
Have your work space physically where you can see it. If your computer is next to your TV, you are reminded to dig into your manuscript before watching that enticing mystery. It is commonly said, you can’t edit an empty page. The process of writing gets smoother the more you make it a habit. Keep your writing near by in part of your life to complete your project sooner.
In knitting, you plan. A lot. You figure out how many scans you need and find out how many rows it makes. You need to know how big a blanket you need and purchase the right amount of materials. In writing, you can estimate how many words you write per minute.
One of the valuable lessons I learned participating in Nanowrimo was how many words per minute I wrote. By watching this statistic over the month, I saw when I wrote more and took mental note of my patterns. It also motivated me to make that number a little faster by focusing harder when I had a writing sprint. A bit of the chicken or the egg situation, being aware of my rate of writing kept me focused and increased my output.
If it takes you 45 minutes a day to write a couple pages or a scene, how many days will you need for a chapter? How many chapters will complete your novel? Plan for the time and watch your project grow.
While knitting, one of our circle needles broke. As it unhinged, the blanket it held together sat in peril as we rubber-banded the thread to keep it from unraveling. We rushed to the store and bought a fairly inexpensive second set of needles.
When has that happened to you when writing?
If you said never, you are one of those lucky ones we all love to hate! Everyone has lost a file or accidentally erased something important.
Writing takes time and we want to have backups to protect our work. Knowing where your work is located and having a easy-to-follow filing system will alleviate writer stress during your project.
I am guilty of this. I am setting up a new computer and trying to take a more focused approach to create my filing system. It is better than the I’ve-got-it-somewhere approach that I used to use. Using the find feature often isn’t the best plan, but it was my go-to under my old system.
How can you better prepare for the unknown and unexpected?
So, you may have a manuscript that is in a solid first draft. It is time for another look-over. Let’s say you figure out during this second review that your protagonist is too lackluster. Or perhaps you figure out a better fatal flaw that ups the stakes and makes your story soar.
It takes unraveling to do this. Sometimes it is better than having a knit blanket with a hole. Sometimes it only takes an extra stitch to fix. You decide, but be sure to fix those flaws, or you will leave your reader feeling cold.
Need a little extra help with conflict? Try the Conflict Thesaurus and other resources at One Stop for Writers.
Sometimes the project is a total loss. Unravel the string and enjoy the satisfaction of pulling that thread. It will go faster the second time writing your story and it will give your mind time to edit as you go.
It’s never a total loss. And like in knitting, the threads unravel but they remain to be knit back together again. This time with more intention and skill.
If you struggle with finding time to write in our busy world, try some of the suggestions in our recent post by Julie Glover. She has links and many suggestions to remember to be kind to yourself. We are into writing for enjoyment after all!
I have my knitting project in our TV room. It is something to keep my hands busy and my mind relaxed when watching something I am not exactly interested in. (Monday night football? Only if it's my favorite team!) Before I know it, I'll have half a blanket and a new plotline worked out over the course of a few winter nights.
When do I want to gift this blanket? My mother wanted to finish before she left on a plane. She had no desire to haul it through an airport and to be questioned by the TSA. She finished 2 projects during her stay, along with many other moments of quality time.
Make writing your priority by setting your daily goals to finish the larger project. Even if you don’t hit your mark exactly, you can recalibrate your goals and celebrate the progess you have made on your Work-In-Progress.
If you struggle with time management here is one strategy for making time to finish your work. The 4-step Eisenhower Matrix of Time and Task Management, which aligns tasks by importance and urgency, has helped many professionals make priorities and increase productivity. It may help you become a more prolific writer as well.
In order to do the most important work with efficiency, this WWII president’s method focused on the following criteria:
The decision-making process goes like this:
This matrix can keep a writer when the decisions they make are overwhelming. Writing is both business and art. One strategy that helps with the business side is to find others to share the work.
For tasks that must be done, consider getting help for tedious tasks you hate. For example, other artists may love to put together social media campaigns or format a book. It is worth the money to have it done right. Consider a task swap if it is cost-prohibitive. You may know someone who excels at book blurbs. Perhaps they could beta read your book and give you a concise blurb for your cover.
Do you have someone in your family or friend circle who supports your writing and can help with some of the writing tasks? Call in a favor and maybe give them a free book in exchange.
Consider hiring extra help. We don't need to be experts in all aspects of our author life. Delegating tasks can free you up for the most important task: writing.
Have an audience in mind. Writers know to always have their audience in mind. In a similar way, I thought about who I planned to give this blanket to.
When knitting, this takes planning. From which colors and textures go with the person’s room, to making it the right size to go over their couch or guest bed. Find the personalized touches that will make them swoon with amazement. Do this with a story and create loyal readers who will share your book with others.
Here is my work in progress!
I am merely a novice, but I am enjoying this new hobby. It helps me focus and regenerate energy. It helps me to see progress that shows up row by row. Just like… words in a document.
Next is one of my mother’s creations. Warm and cozy and a perfect pair for this adorable bear.
Here are some questions to explore.
Know what your readers want and make to those specifications. It will build a loyal audience who will willingly spread the word about your novels.
Check out the recent post by Kathleen Baldwin for more ideas on how to connect with your audience and fulfill their expectations.
Writing is one part of our lives, but it filters into other things we try as well. What interests do you have outside of creating the next great novel? What hobbies do you do that inspire your writing? Tell us in the comments below!
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Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family.
And occasionally, she knits.
Photos and visuals created by Kris Maze using Canva.
Top Photo by Tara Evans on Unsplash
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Thank you for this! Not only about the writing but the knitting as well. I am attempting to learn crochet and knitting while still working on my writing. Love your WIP!!!
Thank you, Vicky!
Crochet is tricky, too. I'm looking forward to finishing this beast of a blanket before my kiddo heads off to college.
What genre do you write in?
I rediscovered my passion for knitting in the last few months. I've been knitting hat and scarves for charity. Your blog post has me thinking of learning weaving. I new skill. I believe I have a small loom that was my daughter's. Thanks for post.
Weaving sounds fun. I've seen some amazing rugs made from random materials from around the house. It's really is neat that you can also donate these to charity. It's a feel good experience all around. Thanks for that inspiration!
Great article Kris! Thank you! Your 3- 4 hours intense focus limitation intrigues me, as I've always advocated 2-3 hrs to my students. I'd love to have a bigger creativity window. I would llove to delve into that the study. Do you happen to have a link to it?
In general I believe we have less and less focus, since it is now the norm to sit on one's phone in the name of multitasking! I'm definitely guilty of phone grazing, but get a little irked when see my students flip out their nothing-boxes the second I set them free. It will be interesting what research comes from this habit, too.
I don't have the specific study other than the article linked above, but I have read about multitasking, which does have research supporting how it really drains the brain of it's focus and power: https://www.verywellmind.com/multitasking-2795003 This article has some great information.
Nice to chat with you!
Thank you Kris! I agree with you about smart phones diverting focus. We may have unlimited creativity but out focus is definitely limited. Such an important concept. Thank you again. And I appreciate the link. Interesting article.
Love this, Kris! I have whittled down my hobbies over the years so that now almost everything I do is writing focused. I had so many aha moments in reading this. The 4 hour focus time is huge. I tried to work at a high level for 8-12 hours a day for a while. Needless to say... that didn't work out well. Since much of my work is scheduled via Zoom, I had to realize that I needed to schedule time for ME. Your post reinforced for me that I must do this.
And it also reminded me that I really want to pick back up some of my needlework during TV time! Thanks for sharing these.
I'm glad this resonated with you! I tend to go-go-go and then wonder why I end up with the physical consequences for skipping the fun stuff, too. Me time is so important!
Wonderful post, Kris! I managed to combine a new hobby with my fantasy WIP. I'm learning watercolor painting, so I drew out a map of my fantasy realm and colorized it with my watercolors. It's amateurish, but was fun to do! I also created some watercolors of the critters and symbols from the story. These are framed and hanging beside my desk.
Watercolors are amazing! So much fun to fill in and play with. I want to find some paints now! Trying another medium can bring so much more creativity into our works. Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂
I'm trying to get back into quilting.
I've set most of my hobbies aside with the exception of reading for fun. Life has been a series of putting out fires for a little too long, but appears to be settling down.
The protagonist in my WIP loves to paint and so do I! One day I'll get back to my pencils and paints.
I think the Eisenhower decision making matrix will help me, so thanks for that!
My mother knitted, Grandma tatted lace, my mother-in-law made fantastic Afghans. I tried. LOL. My swearing improved.
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