on the idea of fearlessness

There are lots of cool things about having knitting as a hobby. For one, if you happen to knit a sweater that turns out to be too small, you can just frog it and reuse the yarn – there’s no materials waste. And, if you have leftovers from a project, you can make something out of those scraps, the same way you can make a quilt out of fabric scraps. But the scary thing about knitting is dropping a stitch: all it takes is one of them sliding off your needle and laddering down, and there goes your project.

Example of a dropped stitch from The Knitting Network. The horror!

Well. It feels like that when you start, at any rate.

When you’re struggling through your very first dishcloth or scarf or other general rectangle of a project, you’re terrified of dropped stitches, or adding a stitch, or just messing up in general. You count your stitches after every row, sometimes twice, because the idea of making a mistake is terrifying. And yeah, maybe you tell yourself that you have to be bad at something before you can be good, but you still want it to be right even if it’s not quite perfect.

That hasn’t been me for quite a while now. My grandmother first taught me to knit when I was about 8 years old, and that was definitely me back then. Part of it was how much of a struggle it was to simply create every stitch. It didn’t feel natural, or confident, and I definitely didn’t want to rip back to fix something because that meant tearing out hours of highly concentrated effort.

After more than a couple decades, I even braved the shock and furor of internet strangers to document the frogging process on Twitter about a year ago.

A twitter thread where I document frogging (ripping out) a shrug that I only wore once because it just didn’t fit.

Part of it has to be a state of mind.

I took a lot of time knitting that shrug and making sure it would be the size the pattern said it should be, and it was a struggle, because I had to rewrite some of the charts that came with the pattern. (Knitters generally have a strong preference for charts, which are visual, or written instructions, and patterns tend to tell you which one they are … unless they’re mislabeled or misrepresent themselves.) So yes, I know full well how much time and effort I’d put into it, thank you.

I also knew that I couldn’t easily get that very lovely yarn anymore. And that not many people are actually knitworthy, and come on, I really want a nice cabled shrug for me, that I can wear. Forget sunk costs. I wanted to have something I could use out of that precious yarn, so I reclaimed it.

Frogging might look more foolish than fearless, but bear with me.

I am more willing to try new (and possibly questionable) techniques because frogging is one of the tools I have in my toolbox. The thing is, if you Google “dropped stitches,” the top results are about fixing them, not defining them. A dropped stitch isn’t the end of the world (or your project) if you have the skills and techniques to fix it.

And knitting is full of all kinds of skills and techniques to help you fix mistakes in your projects. There’s more than one way to do every single technique in knitting – and yes, even knitting itself. (Continental? English? Portuguese? Combination? And those are just the major styles.) If one way doesn’t work well for you, try another. The longer you knit, the more techniques you come across, try out, and relegate to one of your major columns: use it more often, keep it around in case you need it, or heck no – always find an alterative to this one.

And the more knitting tips and tricks you amass, the more fearless you can be about knitting a new pattern or trying a new technique, because you have so many ways to “fix” it if things go wrong.

Hang on, isn’t this usually a writing blog?

I’m so glad you asked.

The more tips, tricks, tools, and techniques you know, the more fearless you can be in your first draft … whether it’s knitting or writing. It doesn’t matter as much if things go wrong, because you know you can deal with them. It’s neither a mystery nor a tangled mess.

When you start writing, you might think it has to be perfect straight off. I know when I started, I thought of them as “stories” instead of “drafts” – and certainly not “a first draft.” A first draft implies there will be other drafts that follow.

It might even imply imperfection.

I’ve already talked a bit about how I don’t think of writing rules while I’m writing, and that plays into the apparent fearlessness of a first draft. When I’m drafting, and it’s going well, there’s a lot I don’t worry about. I just … write, and know that any issues can be fixed later.

You still have to know all those expectations, and you still need to end up with a book (or a shrug) that fits the intended recipient, but the start can look like a big tangled mess if that’s what it takes to get started … or to get a draft finished.

What do your first drafts look like? Would you ever show them to someone else?

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