How Writing a Book is Like Latch-Hooking a Rug
by Mary Ellen Stepanich, Ph.D.
A book is usually made up of 60,000 to 100,000 words recorded on paper or in a digital storage device, with one word following another in such a way that the all of them strung together makes a sensible, entertaining, and/or enlightening whole. If you’re lucky, you’ll finish the thing after a year or so and people will want to pay good money for the end product. And then, with high expectations, you’ll start to write another one.
A latch-hooked rug is made up of 20 zillion pieces of yarn you grab with a contraption that looks like the tool a dentist uses to pull teeth and torture patients. If you’re lucky, you’ll finish the thing after an interminable amount of time and the end product will be something you wouldn’t be ashamed to place on your living room floor. And you will vow never to make another one!
So how could these two very dissimilar items have anything whatsoever in common? I’ll try to explain with this true story:
Some years ago, when I was living in a remote village in northern California, my husband ran off with my next-door neighbor in the middle of a snowstorm and an electrical outage, leaving me with no heat and no firewood in the house. (Cue the violins playing “Hearts and Flowers.”) My family in Indiana decided I’d lived long enough in the land of fruits and nuts, so my 66-year-old father made his one and only airplane trip to fly from Indianapolis to San Francisco so he could drive his only daughter and her furnishings back home where he knew she belonged. To pass the time and stay awake to talk to my father and keep him alert as he maneuvered the U-Haul truck through the umpteen-hundred miles back to the Midwest, I decided to latch-hook a rug. The end result is shown in the above photo.
What did it take to latch hook that rug and stay at it during all the adventures that befell us on that trip? (You can read about them in Chapter 21 of my memoir, D is for Dysfunctional…and Doo Wop!) Determination, yes, but something more, I believe. After I had finished several rows (akin to chapters in a book), I could begin to see that the final product might not suck, after all. I felt proud that I could create something that looked pretty good, would last for years, and be admired by my friends and family.
So, the each time I find myself complaining to myself – and my critique group – that I’m stuck and I’m probably not a very good writer anyway and I should just go bowling, I look at my rug. And I change my mind.
As Ernest Hemingway said, “Writing a book is easy. You just open a vein and bleed on the paper.” That’s a LOT easier than latch-hooking a rug.
Dr. Mary Ellen Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior who always told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior is a bit wonky.” She has published articles in academic journals (boring), show scripts for barbershop choruses and quartets (funny), and an award-winning radio play, “Voices from the Front,” for Sun Sounds of Arizona (heartrending). Mary Ellen lives in Peoria, Arizona, with her cat, Cookie, and blogs on her website, MaryEllenStepanich.com.