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what it takes to make something new

This weekend I sewed my own shirt for the first time. The shirt was simple, based on a pattern I had bought on Etsy several years ago. Over the last few years I've had the urge to make. In a sense, as a writer I do "make" things. Sure, I write articles and I'm currently trying to "make" a book happen. But I've always envied visual artists... the way they spin raw materials into something new that I can touch and hold, see and sense.

But, I often don't finish my projects. My "maker" whims are often abandoned shortly after I've started. I leave a trail of unfinished projects in my wake. They find refuge cast off in the dusty corners of my house: fabric scraps stuffed up in the attic with the old baby gear, embroidery hoops stabbed with a still threaded needle, half-hearted attempts frozen mid-stitch tucked under the sofa, my sewing machine demoted to a giant doorstop.

This past year of dedicating myself to a practice of a creative life has been an education in what it truly takes to bring forth something new into the world.

Writing a book-length work like a novel is a slog. I don't pry myself out of my warm bed at 4am enticed by my characters and desperate to dive into the fantastical world of my story. Mostly, I'm desperate to hit snooze and forget I ever decided to write a book. But somehow I stumble out of my bed and strive to spin letters into a universe.

The world is focused on how to make me more productive, more efficient, how to get more done. A lot of mainstream writing advice seems to follow the same trend. But creation requires time. It requires a kind of slowing down I've never really practiced before. Perhaps, this resistance to the slowing down is one of the reasons I am a serial starter, but can never quite complete the project (eg. a scarf I've been knitting for A DECADE.) The slowing down means I have to sit with the process of making something and allow for imperfection, challenge and yes, even failure. For me, it turns out, failure is more about imperfection than it is about not getting the thing done. I would rather abandon the project than make something that's not perfect. And so my M.O. is to just walk away before I've truly given it time.

Over the last year, my creative inspiration leads me off the page. One day I sketched a whole series of sculptures and installations inspired by my writing. Now, I don't know if I'll ever make them, but I keep having this compulsion to make things with my hands... to manifest the world I'm creating in the story. Perhaps because writing is so cerebral, practices that get me in my body and using my hands seem to amplify the creative energy.

Because it has taken so long to get to a place where I am writing regularly and actively working on this book project, I've been very possessive of my creative time, feeling as if I can only dedicate myself to one project or to making one thing. Yet, my experience acting in a local production of A Raisin in the Sun earlier this summer underscored just how much my other creative whims and compulsions might support and nourish my Job One of writing this novel. I've even starting seeing my going to the gym and working-out as part of nourishing my writing life. While I'm running on the treadmill I imagine my characters running through the Bushlands or I just take a moment to honor how I am taking care of my body so I can have the energy and practice of devotion to get back to the page and actually do the slow hard work of bringing something new into the world.

So back to this shirt. In the instruction guide, the sewing pattern-designer discusses how slow-fashion and taking the time to make your own clothes is really a practice of understanding "what it takes to make something new." In so many ways, we no longer have a firm grasp on that. Our constant streaming,fast-everything, instant gratification culture doesn't readily cultivate an appreciation for patience, process, practice.

As I sewed this very imperfect shirt, I sensed my impatience, I sensed my desire to cut corners and rush through or just give it up altogether. But I pushed through. In a way, I made a "first draft" of a shirt. The inner seams are messy and need some finishing touches, the stitching is a little wonky here and there... but forgiving. The construction is solid, though and it is beautiful. And, ultimately, I made it. I made this lovely new thing and it took time. As it should.


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