A Guiding Metaphor for the Writing Process

Open crocus - Guenette photo

The one who, “… every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him [or her] through a labyrinth of the most busy life.” Victor Hugo

I have a million excuses for the fact that I am not making headway with my current work in progress – none of which I feel the need to waste your time with. What I’ve been thinking about on this fine, Daylight Savings Time morning, is how a guiding metaphor can hold one back or, in the spirit of this day, help one spring forward.

Consider the following piece from my writing notes of yesterday:

Do I have too much material or not enough? Definitely, more than enough! A trimming may be in order. Though I’ve been through these anxieties before, I’m almost overwhelmed by the number of threads that need to be woven together to make this book happen. It feels as though I’m in front of an empty loom with piles of coloured yarn all around my feet. I have to pick up the right thread at the right time and set the pattern. There’s all this fear that I will start out wrong and have to backtrack. It’s inevitable. And anyone who has ever done needlework of any kind knows – pulling something out is hard work.

Loom cartoon - google image

Rereading that section today, I find myself thinking that the loom metaphor is not particularly helpful. It seems, in fact, to be paralyzing.

A new visualization is a must. I’m trying this one on for size.

My writing process is like a free-form, patchwork quilt. I create a square and then another and another. At some point, I begin to lay them out to see how they might fit together and gradually, over time, a pattern emerges. As the design begins to come together, I’ll shuffle and rearrange my quilt squares over and over. Loose threads will be drawn through the pattern. Joining squares may be needed in various spots and the whole work might benefit from some type of border. I’ll have to decide on a special colour of thread to join it all together. The true design will only emerge as I go.

Quilt - google image

No guarantee this metaphor is going to push me over that painful divide from planning the book to actually writing the book but at least I am no longer pinned beneath an empty loom. And this quilt does seem to snap nicely in the spring breeze.

What about you? Does having a guiding metaphor for your writing process help you move forward?

10 comments on “A Guiding Metaphor for the Writing Process

  1. Fran. Two metaphors for me: (1) I need to find an idea or event that becomes a guiding star. (2) once I’m under way i think of the work as sculpture.
    When I’m stuck, i just take a long walk!

    • Great metaphors, Stuart. I like the sculpture idea – we do a fair amount of moulding and shaping, don’t we? From having read a couple of your novels, I can see how the notion of the guiding star comes into play. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  2. This is such a powerful metaphor for writing a book, Francis. I had no idea how hard this task would actually be until I began working on a book for real in November, 2015. The National Novel Writing Month challenge provided the initial structure for me to begin and finish the first 50,000 words.

    Your metaphor for a free-form patchwork quilt is such an appropriate description of the process I’ve gone through thus far to reach the 75 percent mark of my first draft. I’m no longer counting words, just pages. I’ve decided to keep writing until the first draft is finished, but I still feel the pattern emerging more clearly as I write. Some days I am excited to finish so I can begin the process of stepping back to look at the whole picture so I can see how the pieces fit together.

    Thank you for sharing this incredibly helpful metaphor!

    • You are most welcome, Carol. I think the pattern continues to emerge for the author well into rewrites and possibly beyond. My editor made a comment to me about Chasing Down the Night and how it was well done to have played on the theme of running throughout the book with several of the characters. It wasn’t until she said these words to me that I recognized that thread in the work. What is that French philosopher Paul Ricoeur speaks of – interpretation is the work of the reader. It is only when the work moves beyond us that its true meaning becomes clear.

  3. jane tims says:

    A patchwork quilt is a great metaphor for writing … You can crawl inside its folds, warm yourself … I sometimes think my work is like a bowl I am filling, stirring, adding ingredients, tasting …

  4. P. C. Zick says:

    My metaphor for my process: laying down the concrete foundation for a house. Now if I could just get the darn cement mixer to work!

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