How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Frog

Frog. (v) to frog. The act of “ripping” out already knit stitches by removing them from the knitting needles and unraveling the stitches. In some cases, you merely “frog” a few rows back to fix a mistake. In more extreme cases, one may “frog” an entirely knit sweater to reuse the yarn.

Back when I learned to knit, after I’d made my first uneven garter stitch square thing, I started becoming a perfectionist about knitting. A psuedo-perfectionsist rather. Simply put, I hated to frog and would do just about anything to avoid it. My strategy? To turn a blind eye to glaring errors or dissatisfaction with the pattern. I kept knitting only to end up with an unwearable sweater or a scarf that would get sent to Goodwill.

The reason for this particular bout of crazy was that one of my first overly ambitious projects had been a mohair lace scarf. Being a beginner, I’d made a lot of mistakes and had had frogged to the extent that the yarn had become a frayed mess. The scarf never got made and for the next several years I avoided both mohair and frogging.

About two years and two drawers full of unwearable knits, I was talking about my dissatisfaction with the pullover I’d just completed. The gauge seemed off. The waistline decreases had a few mistakes. It didn’t fit me right. Overall, not good.

“Frog it,” my knitter friend told me. “It’s only yarn. Besides, you can use it for something else.”

And it clicked. Don’t know why it took me so long, but right then I thought, She’s right. It is only yarn. So what if I spent two weeks knitting it if I don’t like it? I went home and frogged the pullover. I raided the unused knits drawer and salvaged yarn from three other projects. For the final liberation, I pulled a wrap off the needles that they’d been on for three months. I’d hated the yarn and was only halfway through. Part of me thought, What are you doing? You’ve spent three months on this, just go on and finish it, but the other part of me slapped that crazy knitter upside the head and began winding the yarn. And that’s how I learned to stop worrying and love the frog.

However, even though I’ve been a writer for longer than I’ve been a knitter (or maybe because I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a knitter) I’ve never been able to apply that lesson to writing. When it comes to writing, have the same problems, I don’t want to “frog” any of my stories. This is part of why I handwrite first drafts. The computer seems too final to me and when I handwrite something I know I’ll be rearranging and revising as I’m typing it in. And, in remembering that, I can allow myself to write a shitty first draft. But even doing that, I can get pretty grouchy about having to “give up” any part of a draft that I’ve spent time and energy on.

Today was a good example of that. I spent about three hours in the afternoon working on a draft of a still incomplete story. I recently read Ron Carlson’s book on story writing and am trying to observe his credo — stay in the room — as much as possible. And so this afternoon I stayed in the room. And stayed. And stayed. And I ended up with a good five or six pages. However, I’m also trying to observe Carlson’s other credo about listening to what the story tells you, and I swear to God that at least five or six times I heard the story go, Oh hell no, you aren’t doing THAT. But I persevered and at the coffee shop this evening, I realized that of the five or six pages I’d written, I had maybe three paragraphs that were usable.

I know that’s part of the writing process, and I’ve come to accept that there are entire stories that sometimes just have to get out on the page so that one gem of a line can be used elsewhere. I deal. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be grouchy about it. Anyway, as I was ripping pages of my notepad I thought about how a story is only a bunch of words. They can be rearranged and reused elsewhere. Maybe even in this story, but definitely not as they are and not right now.

I’ve met a few writers who claim to start fresh on each revision by completely rewriting the story from scratch. I envy that. Even though I do a lot of revision, I can’t claim to ever throw out the original draft and start fresh. I envy the writers who can, though, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good exercise to rewrite one of my more complete stories without ever referring to the original or even the latest draft. Could be interesting.

So why not try it? It’s that part of me, that crazy knitter part from before, who is thinking, My god, what a waste to completely undo everything that you’ve worked so hard on. Leave it alone!

I think it’s time to slap that crazy knitter upside the head.

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