This weekend I tried to weave an image of a horse on my small lap loom. It had been a long time since I’d tried to shape a horse with yarn across tightly stretched warp, and it wasn’t coming easily. I unwove my horse three times.
Unweaving is simply undoing what you’ve done. Instead of going over and under the warp threads to build, you go over and under to take down what’s there. It’s not unpleasant. It’s the same motion as weaving, but it can get frustrating if you have to do it too often and your image doesn’t progress. My horse kept on looking like a rabbit. I found the rabbit imagery interesting and thought I might try a leaping bunny at some point, but what I wanted was a horse. A blue horse.
Writing stories is also a complicated business, be they fiction or memoir. You need to keep a lot of plates spinning in the air, or to use a weaving metaphor, winding a lot of plot and character and setting and what-all-else threads into a story. Whatever you write can serve you later, or it can just sit there separate from everything else, and therefore glaringly wrong. Writing a story requires bringing a certain thread forward, bringing up a backstory for instance, or sometimes deliberately letting a warp thread show or a weft thread, sometimes deliberately hiding them.
One thing I’ve noticed in both writing and tapestry, and that I imagine might be true for every art form, is that there is a lot of forgiveness in the medium. You really can fix things that come out wrong. You can unweave, revise, rewrite, patch, splice in a new warp thread – nothing is really set in stone until you decide it’s done. But a lot of beginning artists don’t know this. They look at a finished tapestry or read a published book and feel awed by it. As well they should, but it’s important to realize that things rarely come out perfectly in the beginning. I could say that the miracle in making art is that sometimes things do come out perfectly the first time around, but I think there are actually three other miraculous gifts every artist is given, a sort of holy trinity of the creative process. The first miracle is that we get a second, third, fourth, fifth, and endless chances to make it right. The second miracle is that it will never look like our original vision, no matter what it is, and we should rejoice in this. And the third miracle (related to the second and the reason for rejoicing) is that often times “mistakes” end up being our guides, not guides telling us what not to do, but instead guides that show us what we did not know we could do.
That blue horse I was weaving? After unweaving it for the third time, I set my loom on the couch and went about my day. Each time I walked by I looked at it. I squinted my eyes. I took the long view. I related to it. And I studied the two weavings I’d done that had horses in them. I looked closely. How did I do that? I really couldn’t remember exactly, but that night, while watching TV I took my loom back into my lap and I wove a horse. He’s not perfect, but I’ve got some ideas on how to give him a nip and a tuck to make him prettier. The same is true for writing. Sometimes it’s just a nip and a tuck. Sometimes it’s a big overhaul. Sometimes, frankly you just lose juice for something and you cut it off the loom and warp up again and start over. Every time though, no matter how you feel about it, your art is guiding you.