If you’ve ever written a book–or anything longer than a blog post, really–you know how it goes. You start out excited and motivated. You’re finally getting some words on the page after thinking about the idea forever! But that motivation always disappears in the middle.
If you haven’t written a book, let me tell you: that motivation always disappears in the middle, and that’s OK. Ideas get boring after a while, and you have to find the love again–but it’s there.
I started writing Pockets! by doing the easy stuff first. It’s a how-to book, which means it’s a teaching book, and teaching is what I do every work day. I wrote the sewing basics first: an introduction to the craft, the tools, the work we’ll be doing throughout the book. It’s a practice I’ve been doing since I was a kid, so long ago now that I don’t even remember my first project. My goal is to write a chapter a week, and this one took about a day.
Then I moved onto writing the actual pocket projects. Just like the writing, the sewing goes from easy to difficult. As your skills grow, the sewing gets more advanced. Which means more steps for me to write. Which means somewhere around the sixth chapter, I stalled and then stopped.
I used to believe in writer’s block, but the more one writes–the longer one writes–you realise it’s your brain creating excuses not to do the work. When I hit that block, there are a few techniques that have worked for me in the past.
a) Write something else: Because this is a book, there are chapters, and there’s no rule that says I have to write in order. When you’re struggling with one part, jump over to another. When I got stuck writing instructions, I tried writing the introduction.
b) Write notes instead of sentences: The ideas are in your head. The problem of writer’s block is often translating abstract to concrete. This is my very first draft, and the rule explicitly says it’s supposed to be the worst one. So I write what I’m thinking, in fragments and phrases, and I don’t let myself fret over sentences.
c) Read: Which came first? The reading or the writing? You have to do both if you’re going to make a book. Writing non-fiction gives one even more of an excuse for “research,” and that’s how I’ve spent the last two weeks. I have three pages of notes and quotes that will, eventually, hopefully, soon become paragraphs.
d) Be kind to yourself: the absolute most important thing. There are so many people and books which love to tell you the right way to be a writer. But there isn’t one way; there is your way and my way and everyone else’s way, too. My way used to involve a lot of self-flagellation about how I wasn’t writing that very minute and how that made me a bad person. None of those thoughts are true, but I believed them for a long time.
You are a writer all the time, whether you’re currently writing or outlining or researching or daydreaming about the next chapter. You are a writer, whether you’ve been published in print, online, or bound your words in a chapbook. You are a writer, and if you can’t write today, I bet tomorrow will be different.
According to my word count spreadsheet (you can download the template I created here!), the last change to the Pockets! document was April 21, when I deleted a bunch of notes at the beginning and had to recalibrate my word count. (In retrospect, you have to wonder if that triggered my stall. Oops.)
But in those 11 days, I’ve been sewing again. There are half a dozen projects on my drafting table: some pinned, some cut, some sewn and just waiting for hemming and fasteners.
I’ve been reading: I just finished Craeft by Alex Langlands, one of my favourite archaeologists, whom I’ve mentioned so many times before. The book chronicles his love of traditional crafts, with an academic background, as well as some behind-the-scenes stories for those of us who have watched every BBC Farm (more than once).
The title, “Craeft” (imagine that’s a ligature that doesn’t break formatting lol), isn’t just pretension. In Old English, the meaning is different and deeper. It’s about doing jobs and making things by hand, yes, but it’s about the combined and collective knowledge that allows us to make those things. Craeft is the know-how and the act. As much as we cling to the latter, we have to ensure we don’t lose the former.
My next book, I’m hoping will jumpstart my writing brain again: The Pocket by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux. This is the academic history to my practical guide (and in full colour omg). You’re gonna want them both.
Today is the first day of the White Rock Farmer’s Market. All Day Breakfast will be there with bread and sourdough starter on May 23, but my mom and I are going this afternoon to check it out, maybe say hello to last year’s neighbours. There have been a lot of changes behind the scenes since last year, and pandemic restrictions are still in place. But it’s so nice to have something to look forward to these days.