I’ve never really been the “artsy” type, but the desire to quilt has been bouncing around in my brain for a while now. My great-grandmother, Winifred Ruth Harvey, used to hand-quilt a blanket for one family member each year. Though I lack the skill and discipline for hand quilting, I still want to revive this tradition because somehow, despite the years and the fact that she’s gone, I still feel incredibly close to her whenever I sit down to sew.
As I started learning the mechanics of machine quilting – the cutting, the measuring, the back stitches, bobbin threading, string snipping and so on – I found myself making mistake. After mistake. After mistake. To the point where I decided that, were they to have an actual “quilting class” in school, I definitely would have been the kid stuck in remedial. Dunce cap and all.
Finally, just when I thought I had finished a perfect square, I double checked my measurements and realized the unthinkable had occurred: I was off by half an inch. I crumpled up into a frustrated ball and sat there, staring at it miserably.
It was at this point that my mother quietly entered the room and, seeing the train wreck that was my quilt square, leaned over me and whispered: “Hey. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re still learning. Anytime you want to create something, you have to be willing to start over.”
Her words hit me like a freight train: Anytime you want to create something, you have to be willing to start over. The true-ness of them washed over me and I realized that what she’d said was applicable not only to my quilting, but my writing as well.
Writing is messy. It is chaotic and difficult and exasperating. Sometimes you get your exposition wrong or cut your dialogue too short or completely lose track of where you started from. Sometimes there is no salvaging the thing that you’ve created. And, when that happens, you have to be brave enough to start all over.
I suspect these words will ring especially true when I get my first packet back from my new advisor. But I’m trying to commit myself to the process, to be gentle enough and forgiving enough of myself to say “Hey. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re still learning.” And I imagine for most of us brave enough to write, that’s a lesson we need to take to heart.
We’re still learning. And whether it’s a chapter or an entire draft, it’s okay to start all over.