Both Sides Now

I’ve decided that writing a novel is a lot like knitting a fair-isle sweater.

How so? Well, sweaters are complicated. There are the design decisions: colours, type of yarn, size of needles, stitch patterns. There’s the painstaking work of actual knitting: stitch by stitch, sleeves and hems and panels, all eventually sewn together to make a finished garment. Then there’s the super complicated knitting pattern to follow (which I would never attempt to create myself! These are the domain of professional designers.)

Writing a novel is just as complicated. There are so many decisions that build on each other, a structure that needs figuring out, the long process of putting words and sentences and scenes and chapters together. Not to mention writing multiple drafts, which feels like ripping back knitting work and redoing everything differently.

Let me push the metaphor a little further. If you’ve ever knit (or owned) a fair-isle sweater, you’ve probably noticed the ugly, messy reverse to the neat colourwork design. While you’re knitting, you carry strands of different-coloured yarn along the back, carefully maintaining an even tension so the stitches won’t be distorted on the front of the sweater.

This process of carrying yarn (technically called “floats”) feels like my writing these days, as I work through the final revisions of my novel. I have two main characters, lots of secondary characters and various subplots… there are lots of details to track though each chapter!

I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to focus each round of revisions on a different aspect of the novel: settings, maybe. Or psychological realism for a specific character. Then, as these major elements get worked out, you can go through the draft and cut unnecessary scenes, polish the language, and build up imagery and symbolism.

I’m going for a more immersive approach, working chapter by chapter, revising all of the above. I’ve just finished chapter 20 (out of 28), carefully balancing plots and characters and emotions to keep the tension steadily rising through the book. I’m trying to keep the threads taut so that the story’s got momentum, so that none of my messy edits show through on the final draft.

The colourwork baby sweater I knit for my nephew James this winter.

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