Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Three Kinds of Books You Haven't Finished Writing (illustrated with unfinished craft projects) by Kell Andrews

I am descended from a family of pack rats. If you show me a picture of me in sixth grade, I might still own the shirt I was wearing. It's not my fault. I get it from my mom, who got it from her parents, and I gave it to my children. Another family trait is creativity, along with a decided difficulty in finishing any task or project.

All three traits converged when my children came home from an overnight visit to my mom's with a bin full of craft materials -- fabric remnants, notions, and supplies, along with this unfinished project:

I recognized that linen tablecloth! It had been folded in the bottom of my mom's sewing kit as long as I could remember, three-quarters cross-stitched, waiting to be finished. We weren't allowed to mess with it because she meant to finish it some day.

My mother began embroidering that tablecloth in college. Since then, she earned her degree, got married, raised three children, worked several long careers, and finished many, many challenging and complex projects, from chair caning to gardening. But she never finished this tablecloth.

Because I'm my mother's daughter, I also have an unfinished project. Mine is a nine-tenths-written novel. That's kind of different, but also kind of the same.

I present the three kinds of books you haven't finished writing, using unfinished (now vintage) craft projects as example.

1. The Tablecloth: The Big Project That Outlasted You

My mother had a lot of ambition when she began that tablecloth. It's big enough for a 1960s dinner party, old fashioned enough for an 1860s one. She started strong, doubling up her floss, stitching those Xs row by row.

Then she ran out of floss. Apparently she shouldn't have doubled the thread after all apparently -- she started too strong. She literally reached the end of her rope and stopped there. Where, oh where, could one possibly find more embroidery floss?

Some novels are like that -- so big and ambitious so your energy or abilities run out before the end. Or maybe you started off too strong, burning through the words with NaNo or a similar writing frenzy until you plain burn out.

The solution: You can get more embroidery floss at any sewing or craft store. And you can get more energy if you let yourself recharge. A three-quarters finished tablecloth does no one any good, and neither does a novel without the end. Finish it.

2. The Needlepoint: You Finished the Fun Part and Now the Boring Part Is Left

Here the whole figured part of a needlepoint nickel has been worked, but only the plain old background is left. And what's the fun in that?

The solution: Novels are more than just the fun part. There's the revisions, the rewrites, the whole long slog. You can sit and admire the outline of the picture, but if you want to get published, it's time for the slog. So finish it.


3. The Odds and Ends: What Is This Stuff Anyway?

A buckled dollhouse rug? A poorly pieced quilt? A still life with thimble and dumb bells? A crocheted whatnot?

Sometimes projects are just false starts,  bad ideas, or unfixable executions. You don't need to finish every thing you start, and these are proof.

The solution: If a project really isn't working, file it away, dismantle it for parts, or even delete it. Don't throw away your good writing time after bad. If you force yourself to commit to projects that will never work, you take time away from writing novel that will.

What kind of unfinished book do you have? 

I think my unfinished novel is category number one, but I'm not going to let a tablecloth novel defeat me. And yes, like my mother, I've been working on other things -- writing picture books, working my day job, raising my children. But now it's time to get back to cross-stitching writing.


  1. Ha! I love the analogies. I'm currently finishing a tablecloth.

  2. So clever! Here's to powering through to the end.

  3. Oh gosh - I have ALL THREE! Yikes. But love them all and plan to return to them. Need 36 hours in the day to do all I would like to do! Good luck to you on your tablecloth - I am sure it will be an amazing spread :)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!