Tuesday, June 07, 2011

An inability to follow instructions

I sewed a purse lining this weekend. Actually, I sewed three purse linings, but one finally worked. The first one would have probably worked except I sewed the wrong sides together. Or maybe I cut it out sideways. I did something strange to the corners of the second one. The third one isn't really right, but it was close enough to put inside the purse and tack into place.

Basically I found instructions on the internet, read them carefully several times and then proceeded to do something entirely different from what they said to do. This is the story of my life. It's a pattern that I can't follow a pattern.

I look at something, see how it basically works and then fling myself into it blindly. It occurred to me as I was cursing myself that this was pretty much how I learned to write as well. I read most of a craft book, I get a sense of what they're saying and then suddenly I'm flying blind and solo.

In some ways, this has worked well for me. I entered my first chick lit novel in precisely one contest before it was published. I got the judges' comments after the book had already been bought (luckily). One of the judges wrote me this long sincere note. It was very sweet. She thought I had talent, but there was no way that a humorous book written in first person was ever going to sell. If I'd known that before I'd written it, or paid attention to the pattern, I might never have gotten my foot in the door in publishing.

But here's the ironic thing, I may not be able to follow a pattern, but I also can't start without one. Without those internet instructions on purse linings, I would have just sat there staring sadly into my plarn cocktail purse thinking about how much more awesome it would be with a lining. Ditto with books. I may not be able to fully follow a pattern, but I need some kind of blueprint before I start. I think it's why I enjoy writing genre fiction.

So how about you? Are you a pattern follower? A recipe person? Or do you just fling yourself out there?


Stephanie Doyle said...

I'm like you Eileen. I need a sense of what I'm going to do, but then I rarely follow any set pattern in doing it.

Cooking for me is watching something on the Food Channel - thinking I can do it - and throwing a lot of stuff into a pot with no measurement or anything.

Sometimes it tastes great. Sometimes it's crap. You just never know.

Sort of like my writing too I guess.

Sinead M said...

I need a sense of where I should head as well. It's why I gravitate towards genre writing. The roadmap is there, even though I rarely follow it the way I should.

Sewing and cooking, I'm useless there.

Maureen McGowan said...

As someone who's ripped out as many seams as she's sewed, I think I'm mostly like you.

But for me it kind of depends on the task. I think for some things (knitting?) I have learned the benefit of following the instructions carefully, or at least keeping track of my modifications to the instructions.

While I was like you to some extent with writing, I almost wish I'd been slightly MORE like that. I wish I hadn't let myself get bogged down in the how to's quite as quickly as I did.

But I think that's why I was drawn to genre writing initially, too. I liked the idea of having a map, even if it was a loose one.

Maureen McGowan said...

sewed? s/b sewn, right? or am I getting caught up in yet another English vs American difference. Sewn.

Eileen said...

How about we just switch to stitched? When in doubt, rewrite, right?

Molly O'Keefe said...

First of all - you sewed a purse lining? Amazing! I can't tell you the number of things in my house that I've kept thinking sooner or later I would fix them - it's embarassing.

But yes - I am totally with you. Cooking is that way for me - I love recipies, I love magazines and books I love picking them out, buying the ingredients and then not following them. I excel at not following them. But without the recipie it would be spaghetti and meatballs every night - which is just sad.

Maureen McGowan said...


Eileen said...

I love spaghetti and meatballs. I'd wouldn't be sad. Fat perhaps, but not sad.

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