Nothing delights writers like a metaphor that describes the writing process. They abound like Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage (not a metaphor).
Walter Wellesley Smith famously said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open a vein, and bleed.”
The most prevalent writing metaphor/simile is the “writing a novel is like giving birth” (again, not a metaphor) trope. As a human being who has delivered three children into the world (two of them back labors) and who has also written four books, I have made no secret how much I hate this particular comparison.
I’d like to point out those three offspring are all still breathing.
The Best One I've Heard Yet.
I’ve put my writing on the back burner the last month or so to tackle a sewing project. Go ahead and scoff, yes, I sew.
When said offspring were young, I made most of their clothes, all of their Halloween costumes, as well as creating a variety of home goods. I haven’t used my machine for several years, and I have a twenty-five-year-old serger never out of the box.
Son 3 moved out, leaving an entire room empty of purpose. It took the blink of an eye to transfer my sewing and craft impedimenta into the space.
After failing to find something to wear to a black-tie, evening wedding, I burned with the drive to make something formal. WTF was I thinking? You know darn good and well what I was thinking, “How hard could it be?”
If you haven’t heard this refrain, can you really call yourself a writer?
In returning to a different kind of craft, I’ve finally landed on the perfect writing comparison.
Writing a novel is, for me, like sewing.
Maybe you took sewing in secondary Home Economics class. You may have made a skirt or a backpack, or something that approximates a skirt or a backpack. You know how to sew a straight seam and how to read a pattern, so you figure you have what it takes to tackle a larger project.
An idea forms. You hunt through pattern books for something similar to your vision. You wander through aisles of fabric choices to customize your design. You have to break out the pattern pieces, cutting them out and ironing them flat so you can cut your fabric for the construction. You cut, you mark, you pin, and somewhere along the line, you start to sew.
I Picked Satin as My First Medium. It’s Like Trying for Dostoevsky on Your First Novel Attempt.
There are so many little steps along the way. Clipping seams, basting, ironing, fitting, and hemming.
You land on some facsimile of a garment and ask for feedback from trusted sources. And when that critique is honest and useful, you open a bottle of wine and salt it with your tears. Okay, that might only be me. And then, you take a pair of scissors to your creation.
I don’t recommend combining those two steps, but let’s face it, is it really a worthwhile project if you don’t breakdown into hysterics at least once?
You have to take a step back and give your brain some space to percolate. Now, you can go back to the project and start to rework the plan.
Not everyone is going to love your final look. That’s a given, but if you’ve nailed your measurements and the fit works, you may have something you aren’t ashamed to wear.
The more you sew, the handier you become at working through those little hitches. The fabric may pucker, your machine tension may need adjustment, and you may have to rip out a seam or two. Or three.
But that’s the process, and THAT is the best metaphor for writing I’ve come across. So, if you are thinking about writing a novel, man, woman, or child, hit the fabric store, pick something to make, and go to it.
You will absolutely discover how difficult it can be.