Like hunger, the urge to create nags me and growls at me until I satisfy it. I know that any creative project will bring me just as much pain as it does pleasure, but my imagination works overtime, anyway. And sooner or later, what is happening in my head demands to be turned into reality.
Let me tell you how one sewing and one writing project both frustrate and fulfill me.
My heart beats a little faster when I walk into a fabric store: the Hawaiian prints, the embroidered denims, and the lush velvets all put possibilities in my head. Even the neat little packages of zippers, thread, bias tape, and buttons—arranged rainbow-like—delight me. I want to buy them all, but time and money won’t let me. So I work one project at a time.
Two years ago, the sweetest, smartest, most adorable granddaughter on the planet arrived in our lives, our Helen. When she turned a year old, I imagined sewing a custom-made playhouse for her, a cloth cover that would turn an ordinary card table into a magical cottage with windows, a door that works, a roof, a bird’s nest, some flowers, butterflies, ladybugs, a mailbox, and a few garbage cans. Then I pictured Helen crawling in and out of this playhouse and wearing a smile that lit up my heart. For the past several months, that masterpiece has been taking shape.
At the same time, I have been writing a novel. Sitting down at my computer to write is like a visit to a fabric store. Just like all the bolts of fabric tempt me, a blank computer screen begs me to fill it with the stories of love affairs, family squabbles, heroes, villains, suburban homes, and country cottages. But I can’t write them all. I need the characters, setting, and conflict that will tell the story of Weaver Days.
Most days I help the book and the playhouse move forward, side by side. But some days, my projects disappoint me. Something just doesn’t click, doesn’t match my vision. That’s when I have to step back, even when that’s the last thing I want to do.
The first chimney for the playhouse, made of fabric printed with puzzle pieces, didn’t look at all like the whimsical chimney I envisioned. Instead, it just looked like a colorful box stuck to the roof. I fretted over the loss of several evenings’ work and my inability to bring my vision to life. But the thing had to go. My sewing machine whirred and I said naughty words and cried as I cranked out a second, more ordinary chimney of plain red cloth.
The novel proved equally uncooperative at times. In the first draft, several chapters near the end took one of the small town characters to a big city for spring fashion week. How could that go wrong? Up to-the-minute clothing styles filled the scenes. An eccentric, minor character enjoyed a bittersweet annual romance that would win readers’ hearts.
But no. The fashions and the eccentric’s love affair weren’t the real story. Like the colorful chimney, they had to go. In a bold move, I gritted my teeth and cut five thousand words, whimpering the whole time. I had spent countless precious writing hours and creative energy on those chapters.
Each time I stepped back on the sewing or the writing project, the finish line looked further and further away. But soon I found my rhythm again. I knew that someday I would finish both. I will watch Helen crawl in and out of her custom cottage, talking to imaginary friends, involved in adventures she created. And some day I will hold a published copy of Weaver Days with my name on the cover. In each case I will shout, “I did it!” and dance around the living room.
The thrill of personal goals achieved will satisfy me for weeks. But sooner or later, after I tire of resting on my laurels and patting myself on the back, other projects will take shape in my head, projects that demand attention. In spite of plans going awry, in spite of backslides and sidetracks, in spite of cuss words and tears, I won’t be able to resist the siren songs of the fabric store and the blank computer screen.
And I will ask myself, “What next?’
And the whole painful and wonderful process will start all over again.
About the Author: Bernie Brown
I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Every Writer’s Resource, Still Crazy and the Raleigh News and Observer. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center. Get to know me better my website and connect with me on Facebook.