The Upside of Stubborn

I saw this video on how to make an argyle pattern with a crochet stitch and got all excited. I had to try it. I went through my stash and found a yarn I thought would work (based on their explanations) but after several tries, I hadn’t succeeded.

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One of many failed attempts (this one used a sock yarn I had in my stash). NOTE: I’m pretty sure I could get this yarn to work now that I know more about it.
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Intentional crochet color pooling, or how to get an argyle pattern using only one yarn.

Determined to make something using this fun technique, I went out and bought a yarn that was on one of many lists of yarns that have been tested and work. I bought a crochet hook (I) to match the yarn and went to it.

I tried. And I tried. And I tried. I started using smaller and smaller hooks to see if I could get the pattern to work, but nothing was working. I went through 5 different hooks (I had to buy 3 of them). I crocheted, then ripped it out, then crocheted some more. Lots of ripping it back out.

I had ideas I thought would fix my problems and none of them worked.

But I still wanted to succeed.

So I watched another video. This one had a few details I had missed before, plus it cleared up a misconception I had about how the pattern should develop. She was much more adamant about the fussiness of this technique. I knew I might need to adjust tension now and then. She explained it was something that must be done constantly.

I started again, this time with a set of 3 hooks (G, H, I). I kept close tabs on how the colors were showing up in the stitches, and would change hooks to fix the tension (pulling out stitches to re-make them) until the colors were in the right places.

It is a fussy technique, but at last, I got it working. And I realized that stubbornness (more kindly referred to as determination) only makes us successful if we recognize that something isn’t working and we change what we are doing. To keep doing the thing that doesn’t work over and over again doesn’t get us anywhere.

I changed hooks. I gathered more ideas about how to do it by watching another video. I made more notes to help myself figure out how to get the colors to come out right.

And I succeeded.

FOR THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED: Click here for the tips and tricks that helped me most.

When has being stubborn paid off for you?

Sock Critter Inspiration: Beyond the Sock Monkey

After sharing about my recycled sock kitty, I started cruising the web to see what else I could make with socks. I found some great ideas.

The classic sock critter is of course the monkey, but I’ve never really liked the traditional pattern (those red lips freak me out).

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Nightmare fuel.

However, people have taken the sock monkey in lots of interesting directions. I love Pippa Joyce’s colorful sock monkeys.

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Not nightmare fuel. (Sock monkeys by Pippa Joyce)

I was really wowed by this sock gorilla but I can’t find any reference to who made it. The post also includes links to some daring sock monkey variations (click at your own peril). My favorite is the Sock Monkey of Willendorf.

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This sock monkey makes a statement. (“Get out of my face!”) [Maker unknown]
Many of the really nice looking sock critters are available as kits, made from brand new and cool looking socks. While this isn’t recycling, it does produce some lovely toys. Sock Creatures in the UK has a particularly nice set of rainbow-striped kits. My favorite was the snail.

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Sock snail (kit available from Sock Creatures)

Zarzak makes clever use of toe socks, and is available as a book and kit (Stupid Sock Creatures Box Set) as well. (I first saw Zarzak on Anita LaHay’s web site and have used her picture below because it is so great.)

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Anita LaHay’s interpretation of the Zarzak pattern.

There are also brave souls making something cool with their old socks without a pattern. I really love Karin Emsbroek’s original designs. Where does she buy her socks?

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Sock whale by Karin Emsbroek
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Sock bat by Karin Emsbroek

Or if you love the unique but are too lazy to make your own, you can commission one. I would go to Jayme at Rawr because her designs are all wonderful. Below I show my favorite, her owl.

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Sock owl by Jayme at Rawr.

Now that I have insulted sock monkeys everywhere, I’m ready for your input. Nightmare fuel or not? Let me know!

Making It Through Creative Limbo

January is here and I am baffled. Where is the excitement I usually feel?

I like to spend January getting excited about what’s next. I had planned on returning to my novel. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I had developed a strong daily writing habit. My re-write of Rapunzel was going to rocket forward.

Then my husband hit a patch of ice on his mountain bike and broke his hip.

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Two of the handful of drawings I’ve done in the last month.

As he lay in the ER, Kurt tried to figure out how he could make his meetings the next day. It didn’t occur to him that he would still be in the hospital the next day.

While I was quicker than Kurt was to realize that our world had changed, I didn’t realize exactly how I would be affected. I would have to be his nurse, as well as take sole responsiblity for all the tasks we normally shared, so I expected to be busy. I expected to be tired.

I did not expect to be completely unplugged from my creative self.

Early on, I was so overwhelmed and exhausted that I had to choose. On any given day, I could only do a little. Groceries took precedence. Doctor appointments came first. Cooking and laundry? Essential to the point of being inescapable.

Writing had to wait.

After a few weeks, however, I expected to get back to normal. Kurt was home and we had developed a new routine. Surely I could get back to my writing?

But I couldn’t. I usually write daily. I also knit, quilt, or draw on a regular basis. Since Kurt’s accident, I’ve gone days without creating, and I don’t seem to care.

My lack of enthusiasm frightens me. I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my brain. I signed up for some weekly online inspirational sessions to help me focus on my dreams, hoping this would help me find my way back to my creative self.

It turns out, I can’t do that, either. Attempts to dig deep and look at the big picture are fruitless and frustrating.

Whether I like it or not, I am in creative limbo right now.

Just as Kurt is sleeping much more than usual, I apparently also need to be still. As the days go by, however, I wonder when the my enthusiasm will be back. Like Kurt, I am anxious to return to my normal activities, and like Kurt, I must be patient.

The temptation is to force things, to makes something happen, but sometimes you can’t push it. Sometimes, you have to accept where you are at and go with the flow. We cannot always be making. We have to stop and breathe and let ourselves rest now and then.

Creativity is supposed to go in cycles. My hope is that this flat, gray, unproductive time is just part of the cycle, and that soon I will move on to a new phase.

In the meantime, I must wait.

A Use for Unwearable Handknit Socks: Cable Kitty

One of the down sides to making things by hand is that sometimes it doesn’t go the way you planned. I like to knit socks, but even though I have made so many pairs that I have the pattern memorized, not every pair is a success. Sometimes the yarn is a bad choice, or the size isn’t quite right. As a result, I have a bag of handknit socks that I don’t wear but haven’t been able to throw away.

Imagine my delight when I came across the book Stray Sock Sewing: Making One of A Kind Creatures From Socks. Here was a book with patterns turning socks into totally adorable little critters. I was stoked.

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Unfortunately, while the book title implies you will be using cast-off socks to make your new friends, the results are much better if you buy new socks for these projects. Socks that have been worn are stretched in places so that the stuffed shapes you make are warped. Brand-new baby socks seem to work best — tiny weave and tiny feet make for the sweetest tiny critters. Also, you can choose the coloring of the sock to enhance the appearance of your finished creature.

Making these toys out of socks knit by hand with colorful yarns? Not really what the author had in mind.

I refused to be daunted. I was not about to buy socks for my project. My goal was to find a way to use the socks I already had. So I dug through my bag and decided to make a cat from pair of rainbow socks that I didn’t wear because they hurt my feet (the yarn was too thick and hard).

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It worked in the end. Granted, my kitty is not the sweet, tiny, Japanese-style creation that this book promotes. Instead, it’s big and chunky. But I love it.

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Because I was already in recycling mode, I was inspired to give the cat a necklace that is actually a bracelet I made but never wore. The birds on the necklace seemed exactly the sort of thing this happy little kitty would wear and by dumb luck, it fit.

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Best of all, this little cat has a job. The cable that runs from my laptop to my monitor on my standing desk has a tiny connection and a heavy dongle. I was afraid the strain on the plug would damage the computer, the cable, or both. But my recycled sock kitty is the perfect size to hold up the cable, and she loves her job.

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You can tell she loves her job. She’s smiling!

What do you do with unused knitting projects?

The Unknown Rules to Novel Writing

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I finished NaNoWriMo in record time this year. I had written 50,000 words by November 23rd and finished my story on November 24th. I had five days to do other things at the end of the month, and one of the things I did was look back over November to figure out why my novel went so well.

The short answer is: I have no idea.

I wish I could say it was superior preparation. I did start thinking about my project in October, but I didn’t have any sort of outline. In fact, my attempts to lay out major scenes as guideposts, which worked so well for me in 2013, didn’t seem to help at all. I knew a lot of what would happen in a general way, but the scenes didn’t fit the structure I used in the past.

I wish I could say it was skill. Sure, I’ve done NaNoWriMo for 11 years in a row now, and in some ways things have gotten easier. I am better prepared for the pitfalls that can crop up, from trips and holidays, to running out of story three days into the month.

I wish I could say it was not taking any trips while writing. I wrote every day, and did not have to sleep away from home at any time. But I’ve had great success writing first drafts on the road. My second most successful November included three trips! I was away from home most of the month. And I’ve had dismal NaNoWriMos when I didn’t go anywhere physically and still struggled to get the words down.

So what happened? The muse smiled on me. That’s all I can think. The words were there, I never lacked for ideas, it was easy to get myself to sit down and write. Also, I had great fun, chuckling when my characters surprised me. I loved Ophelia’s feminist rants and laughed when the ghost told her she was “only a girl” because I knew how much that would piss her off.

While I am grateful that this draft was so easy for me to write, I keep wondering: what was the secret? Did I do something that made it go like this? Can I do it again?

The fact is, every year has been different because every first draft is different. Every novel has its own needs when it comes to the first draft. Just because something worked really well for one book doesn’t mean it will work for the next one. There is no magic formula. There are no rules.

There are three rules to writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are. — W. Somerset Maugham

How I wish this wasn’t true. While it may not be a universal experience, plenty of writers say that every book is a new adventure and that they have to figure out how to write a novel all over again, no matter how many novels they’ve written in the past.

Sometimes creation is easy and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I am flooded with ideas, and the words flow out of me as a result. Other times, the ideas come in fits and spurts and the gaps in between require gritting my teeth and writing anyway. Occasionally I am possessed by a muse of fire and, burning with the need to create whatever I have envisioned, I work obsessively to get it done as soon as I can.

However it happens, the most helpful thing I can do is keep showing up. When I’m tired or uninspired or distracted by other shiny things, I can still put time in with my writing project and move it forward. Even when I write something that is all wrong, I have made progress. I have learned what is not right for my story.

There are no rules and there are no tricks. There is just doing the work. We run, we walk, we limp, we crawl. But whatever we do, we must show up and move.

NaNoWriMo: The End of the Line

November 30th is here, and around the world, those who aren’t finished yet are writing like the wind to complete their novels for National Novel Writing Month.

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For those who finished early: Congratulations! There is nothing like taking on an impossible task with an intimidating deadline and hitting your goal before you needed to. You were blessed with words and ideas and creative flow and plenty of time to write.

For those who finished today: Congratulations! You did it! 50K words in 30 days! You are awesome. You were blessed with tenacity and determination (also know in some circles as stubbornness) and you beat the odds.

For those who are nowhere near finished: Congratulations! You took on this crazy challenge and did what you could. You wrote something, even if it wasn’t what you’d hoped for. You were blessed with important lessons. Maybe you learned you need to use an outline. Maybe you learned you can’t write with an outline. Maybe you learned you really aren’t actually interested in writing after all. Whatever the lesson, this insane experiment has taught you something you didn’t know about yourself. Pat yourself on the back and hold on to what you learned.

Writing After November: Building a Habit Despite the Finish Line

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Many people take on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month in the hopes of building a habit of writing daily. The event seems perfect for this since success requires writing at least 1667 words a day for 30 days. Years of participating in NaNoWriMo has taught me my first reaction to having written 50,000 words under the gun is to collapse. It can be hard to do any writing for the week after I finish my novel and December is spent struggling to write regularly on whatever project I want to complete next.

Fortunately, I discovered why this is a problem in Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. The reason NaNoWriMo doesn’t build a writing habit is because it has a finish line. This gives us an excuse to stop doing something, even if we’ve been doing it successfully for days on end. Once we cross the finish line, our brain says “I’m done!” and walks off whistling. Our reason to write is gone.

Setting a finish line does indeed help some people reach a specific, one-time goal, but although it’s widely assumed to help habit formation, the reward of hitting a finish line can actually undermine habits. — Gretchen Rubin

According to Rubin, the trick to making a goal with a deadline help build a habit is to have a plan. Not just for the event but for what you will do right after the event. Having a clear idea of how you will transition from before the finish line to after it can help you carry what you have been doing forward and turn what was a deadline-fueled commitment into something that will last longer and become habit.

Ways to keep writing after you hit 50,000 words:

Know what’s next. Before the month is over, decide what you will be doing in December. Pick the project you will work on and set goals now for what you will do then. (For those new to the game, I recommend setting aside this month’s draft and letting it rest while you work on something else. You need to get some distance from what you’ve written before you try to revise it. I always wait until January at least before I read through my latest NaNoWriMo draft, and longer than that to start revising it.)

Change the short term into the long term. Instead of thinking, “I’m done when I write 50,000 words,” think “I’m done when I’ve written my 2000 words for the day.” Focus on today instead of forever. Success is meeting that daily goal, one day at a time.

If you work really well with a deadline, use it. To leverage this month’s activity into future activity, take on a new challenge when this one is done. You can keep using finish lines as long as you make sure you have another one on the horizon.

While I’ve faced this tricky transition for more than ten years now, this year is harder than usual. I crossed the 50K line on the 23rd and finished my story on the 24th. My brain has been thinking “I’m on VACATION!” since the moment I typed “The End”. But I am not letting it off the hook. I’ve decided to follow my own advice and keep writing what I can daily. Today I’m drafting blog posts and will not be done until I’ve got 2000 new words down. I am also going to add some more material to my draft to make it more complete before the month ends, 2000 words at a time.

I was lucky. The words really came pouring out this month and I want to keep them flowing. So I will keep showing up and keep writing and hope this steady effort can become a daily habit even when NaNoWriMo is over.

How about you? Do you have a plan for what to do after NaNoWriMo is over?