OK, creating is hard. No, that's not exactly a groundbreaking thought, but I think it still needs to be said. Making anything with your own two hands or with your own brain is a process that takes so much time and so much effort and requires so much acceptance — of both yourself and the process. And sometimes, that means allowing yourself the grace to just start over. Alanna Okun talks about this oft-overlooked part of the creative process in her her essay "Frogging, or How to Start Over" from her new collection The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater. She writes:
"The hardest part of crafting isn't threading an impossibly tiny needle. It's not a complicated lace-knitting technique, nor is it working on a loom that is taller than you will ever be. It's not carpal tunnel nor a hunched back nor eyes squinting to see your work when you should have gone to bed two hours ago. Not paint fumes, not paper cuts, not even the mile-long checkout line that exists at every Michaels in North America. No: the hardest part of making anything is knowing when to start over."
Oof. Does that sound familiar creative fam? It certainly rings true for me when it comes to my writing, and I have a feeling it will cause a gasp of recognition for anyone who has ever made anything. Sure, Okun is talking specifically about knitting, but she's also talking about so much more. How many times have you gotten past it — the exhausting late nights, the painful sore wrists, summoning the brain power to even get started — to write the first ten chapters, paint the first few strokes, knit together the first few rows. You did it! You've started creating a thing! It feels fantastic! You can do this! But, wait...
"....Ten minutes or twenty or sometimes a week later, you look down and realize you have a thing...This fixed image is enough to drive your forward long after the show you'd settled in to watch has rolled its credits. Which is why there's a tiny apocalypse when you realize your mistake. You cast on 84 stitches when you were supposed to have 48; you mixed up the right side and the left side because who ever thinks to do that 'L' hand trick after the age of, like, six? You frantically try to do some mental arithmetic that might fix it, and then when that proves too hard you rejigger your vision altogether."
For me, the mistake usually comes around the 10,000-word mark when I suddenly realize that the setting is all wrong or the pacing is off. For you, it might come after 10 hours of staring at the same painting before you decide you don't like the mood of the work. Whatever it is, the realization that you messed up usually leads to bargaining, then anger, then a long stream of self-flagellation.
This is usually, from my experience, the place where I just... stop. And as Okun and every other creative spirit knows, this phase can last anywhere from one work day to months on end. You might completely abandon your current project for other, shiny new ones. You might not work on anything at all. But when it comes to the creative mind, it loves to obsess over unfinished work. There's just no escaping an unfinished project unscathed.
"The project, meanwhile, keeps staring at you like a puppy in a kill shelter. You can stuff it deep in your bag or hide it under your bed but you'll feel it anyway, waiting for its fate. Maybe you'll even take it out once or twice and knit a few more rows before cramming it back out of sight. Melodramatic, perhaps, but there are moments when it feels like indelible proof of your failings: you're too impatient, you tug too tightly, your execution can never live up to your ideas."
Now, here's the part where things get really crazy. You have to make a decision: abandon your work entirely, which we both know you'll never really be able to do. Or, you can decide to start over.
"...One day things are different. Like after a breakup, that first morning when you wake up and realize you've forgotten to miss the person. Maybe you want the yarn for some new endeavor. Maybe you've decided that having nothing is better than having something that just isn't working. And so you do the one thing knitters are taught never to do: you slide the stitches off the needle."
I don't know where along the way this became a thing, but it's not just knitters who are told to never start over. I can't count how many times I've been told that if I keep starting drafts over, I'll never get to a finished piece. But maybe we'd all feel more free to create if we stop following these hard and fast rules that someone else created for us. Maybe if we untether ourselves from the pressure of just finishing something, anything, even if we don't like it, we'll free up the brain space and the passion needed to make something really cool.
"And sooner than you expected you'll be back at the point where you abandoned the old version, and then you'll get past it, and then you'll bind off the stitches and be done. The stopping will be part of it; the restarting will be too. This time, you'll get it right."
Maybe it still won't be perfect. Or maybe it will be exactly what you had always dreamed it would be. In the end, though, you will have given yourself exactly what you probably never realized you needed to get it done — a little bit of kindness.