Failure (or Why Crafting is Like Writing Fiction)


See this wreath? I made it yesterday. And then I deconstructed it and threw most of it away. As much as I hate to admit it, I failed at making this wreath. 

Failure gets a bad rap. Sure, it sucks to admit defeat. But studying failure can be quite instructive.

Why does this wreath fail to please the eye? First and foremost, it doesn’t transcend the space. That’s always my favorite part of crafting – when the piece I’m making stops looking like pieces – a bow, some ribbon, a few dots of glue – and become a wreath. If my wreath was a short story, you’d simply say, “This just isn’t working for me.”

Okay. Let’s break that down. One of the biggest problems with this wreath is the color. It really would look better in green. More Christmas-y. More wreath-like. Again, if this was a short story, I’d have to change the setting. Maybe alter the background.

Moving on to content – I like the bow. I saved that element. But there’s nothing else to catch your eye. Wreaths work best with “the rule of three” – groups of three items are pleasing to the eye. In a short story, you might say I have too many characters. No one element really stands out. 

Size and scale are problems too. I like working with small things – miniwreaths, micropoetry. Sometimes scaling up – moving up to a big wreath or a short story – is tough for me. This wreath didn’t scale well. Again, if I was writing a short story, I’d need to give my characters bigger problems and/or describe them in greater detail, really flesh them out.

Unfortunately, crafting isn’t quite as forgiving as writing, and I had to throw most of this wreath out because the hot glue (for once) actually held on with a death grip. And maybe that’s a writing lesson too – if a story is holding on to you so tightly that you are paralyzed with writer’s block, it’s time to admit defeat – it’s time to fail! – and move on.

Writing in the Desert

I don’t know how it is for you on your writing journey, but I have blank periods of time where words elude me. I don’t mean that my writing is trite or banal; I mean, the words don’t come at all. It’s like they’ve migrated to a tropical climate and left me in the throes of a dull, gray winter.

I’ve tried a few techniques for getting away from writer’s block. What seems to work best for me is switching my focus from one type of writing to the next. When poetry evades me, I write creative nonfiction. If fiction is challenging, I try magazine articles. Generally, this has served me well. 

However, last summer I got burned out on creative writing in general. You can see that reflected in this blog – I quit writing much of anything. Largely, this had to do with my disillusionment with the poetry community. It seemed like every time I turned around, there were accusations – some well-founded – of sexism, racism, and cultural appropriation. As a community, these discussions are vital. They serve to further understanding among groups if we actually take the time to listen to each other. But as an individual poet, I found it disenheartening that there was such an undercurrent of exclusion and unhappiness in my happy place. I like to believe that poetry is this magical, mystical playground where we all explore words together and seek a greater awareness of life. Sadly, this is quite an idealistic view.

Disillusioned, I quit writing. And then the words packed up their baggage and left, leaving me feeling even emptier than before. I’ve spent the past six months crafting instead. It’s not the same. I still yearn to write.

Many years ago, I belonged to a small community of faith. We were a little group that met weekly to encourage one another on our journey with God. One of our members referred to these times of existential crisis as the desert portion of our journey. Believing in God is easy when we are happy and things are going well. But our faith is challenged during times of pain or struggle.

I see a similar parallel with writing. Every time I lose touch with my ability to write, I feel a desperate panic. And I am always greatly relieved and comforted when the words return.

How do you handle the desert days of your writing life? Do you write your way through them, trusting that if you prime the pump, the words will come? Or do you turn to other creative endeavors to get you through the bleak times?

Have you painted your rock today?

  When my daughter was about two, she was invited to a party with the big girls up the block. She was so excited! One of the craft projects led to the girls decorating a rock.
Now, there’s nothing exciting or special about this rock. It is plain, smooth-faced gray stone, the kind you might find all over your neighborhood, especially if you live near me. I happen to like rocks, and this one has done little to pique my geologic interest over the years.

But I was wrong about it. This stone is special to my daughter. Princess brought the whole force of her creative self upon this rock. She painted it, spread glitter on it, and glued gems to it. For five years now, I have kept this craft masterpiece in my kitchen, on the window ledge by the sink, so I can look at it when I am doing the dishes. It reminds me that things aren’t always what they seem – and that my perspective might be quite different than someone else’s.

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we all have a plain grey rock in our lives. Something that you – and maybe only you – are excited about. Maybe it’s your new fuzzy socks or a song you like. Perhaps it’s an art technique or an artificial intelligence algorithm. Whatever it is, it’s something that makes your heart sing. Something that makes you feel creative and alive and special and chosen.

Too often, I think, we let other people’s views of what we should or shouldn’t like or do color our actions. Others see our passions or interests as plain grey rocks instead of the fine igneous masterpieces that they truly are. And instead of fearlessly throwing ourselves into our passions like only a toddler can do, we walk away, a little sadder, the world less bright than before.

Now is the time to reclaim your passion. Have you painted your rock today? 

Seneca Creek Crafts

So … I decided to open an Etsy shop called Seneca Creek Crafts. My writing muse has been fickle lately (apart from feeding me plot bunnies for CSI: Miami fanfiction, which is not the most practical thing I could be doing), so crafting has been a nice outlet.

 

As I’ve been designing and creating mini wreath ornaments, I’ve been struck by the parallels between my poetry journey and my journey as a crafter. I began writing narrative long-form poems and wound up loving haiku; I started with full-sized wreaths and now I craft minis. I spent a good deal of my life creatively blocked from writing poetry; I haven’t seriously crafted in the last eight years. The process of finding just the right word to finish a poem is so similar to the act of adding one last embellishment to a wreath. And when the creative process is going well, I derive tremendous pleasure from crafting a finished product – whether a poem or a wreath.   

     

What creative outlets do you have in addition to writing? Does the process of creating in a different area help you as a writer?