Sunday, September 23, 2018

Fast Or Slow?

Years ago, before I realized I was a better writer than a seamstress, I made quilts. And years ago, there were two schools of thought regarding quilting–you could either do it fast or you could do it slow. The fast way involved machine sewing all those little squares and triangles together and then either tying your three layers together (backing, batting and top) or doing a minimal amount of hand quilting. The Long Arm quilting machines were only then coming into existence.

The slow way involved cutting out each individual triangle or square from a template and pinning it to the next piece to make a block, which then was joined to another similar block. Borders were added and then it was all pinned together and the three layers were painstakingly quilted by hand. Believe me, punching a needle through three layers of fabric and batting was not for the faint of heart and it was a source of pride when you could get your quilting stitch fine and consistent enough to reach 10 or 12 stitches to the inch. The quilt shown here was laboriously hand sewn and hand quilted while I was racing around the country years ago. While my friend took over the driving, I stitched the little triangles together in my lap. The pattern was appropriately called the Wild Goose Chase.

I attended a quilting exhibition on Friday and was amazed and disappointed to find only two quilts that were quilted by hand. There were some exquisite tops in vivid design and detail, but to me, the effect was lost because of the long arm machine quilting. As intricate as the stitching was, the quilts didn't have the puffy consistency that you got from hand quilting. They looked flat to me.

So why am I telling you this? Because last weekend, I attended a writer's conference where one of the  speakers talked about outlining your novel before you begin writing it. Her goal is to publish six books a year, and in order to do so, she creates an extensive outline for each one before starting. Her detailed chapter outline even included snippets of dialogue that she thought would be appropriate in the chapter. It's the writer's version of the long arm quilting machine.

I'm not one to disparage a writer's methods. We each have to find our own way of being creative, and if someone like Danielle Steel or this woman from the conference thinks outlines are the way to go, who am I to argue? If it works for them, fine. But to me, it felt flat. Leaving no room for creativity to take over in the middle of a scene, to connect the dots that only your subconscious is aware of before they come together on the page, seems more like a grind than a grin. But that's me and that's why I can't produce six books a year.

What about you? If  you're a plotter, do you use an outline? Write the synopsis first? Use a beat sheet?  How detailed do you get before you begin to put words on a blank screen?


  1. I have to admit, I'm a fast quilter. I like getting projects done. So the last one I made was a tie quilt. And the next two I'm planning will be as well.

    Writing I like the openness of being about to let the story tell itself.

    1. I should have known you were a quilter, too. I've kind of given up on that phase of creativity now. My eyesight only goes so far. Glad you're feeling strong again.