8th June 2012

Weaving Words

I’ve often thought about the parallel between sewing and weaving, and writing, but always in relation to writing poetry.  It’s a metaphor that has been used by writers before, as has the technique of quilting, and these metaphors can also apply to life, community and the weaving together of cultures and histories.  The techniques involved in painting could apply to writing, where stories are built up in layers, much as an oil painting would be, where colours and textures are added bit by bit.  The weaving metaphor, though, is one that really applies to the writing of my current adult contemporary novel.  It’s also one that, ironically, is being played out in my life at the moment… I’ll go on to explain this in a bit.  Firstly, the novel…

To start with, it’s a collaboration, something I’ve never done before.  It seems more natural, therefore, that the text is woven together when two people are writing it.  It’s not a case of me writing one chapter and my co-author writing another.  It isn’t really a case of there being two defined voices, although there are two central characters.  The voices become similar and meld together.  We have both noticed that, when reading back a chapter, we can’t always tell which bits each of us wrote.  The threads are truly interwoven.

Another thing about this book, is that some of it comprises pieces not actually written for the book.  They are then ‘dismantled’ and woven into the plot.  Some of these pieces come from my co-author, some are from poems that I have written over the years.  One chunk even came from the novel I wrote about four years ago, and have since ‘put to bed’!

Something else which sets this novel aside from other things I’ve written and am writing, is that normally I write a first draft and on reaching the end, go back to edit… and the process continues.  Not with this one!  We are now at 51,000 words and I have lost count of the amount of times along route that I have gone back to the beginning and read through what we have written and tweaked and fine tuned, and spotted little moments of symbolism, or  threads, that I have then woven into another section or chapter.  It really is like the process of weaving or sewing, assembling something, piecing it together.  It also feels much more experimental than the way I would normally write.  There’s a lot more spontaneity to it and a lot more colour.

Where the weaving metaphor applies to my own life at the moment, is that, in part, the novel has become part of it, and it part of the novel.  In addition to this, there are people who have come into my life over the last few months, one who has been in my life for many years, that have become woven into it.  Those of you who read my blog post on 20th April, ‘One foot in another world’, with the illustration of the way I visualise the days of the week in colour, probably won’t be surprised to know that this is how I see people too.  Not all people, but people who become friends and who I feel close to, generally have a colour.  Oddly, the way these people have come into my life, the similarities between situations and conversations that we’ve had, makes it feel even more as if we are all part of the same story, being woven together.  I’ve tried to illustrate this below.

Lives interweaving

There are eight different colour threads, one of them represents me, and there are more of the green threads because I share the same colour with someone else.  It’ll be interesting to see if, by the end of the year, any other threads are added.  At the moment, I don’t think I need any more.  I have seven lovely threads running alonside me, making my life richer and inspiring my words.  I am very lucky.

Do you have a metaphor which applies to your writing?  Do you weave ideas into your words or build up your story in layers?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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18 Responses to 8th June 2012

  1. Lovely post Abi! You’re a complicated little tapestry aren’t you?! 🙂 xx

  2. Jo Carroll says:

    This is an interesting way of looking at writing and its challenges. I tried to think of a metaphor that would describe my somewhat haphazard process – and gave up. I think I was trying to being with the metaphor and make my process fit, but nothing quite contains my hit and miss approach. But I can see that a tighter approach is essential if you are co-working (which must be such fun?)

    • Maybe your writing is like a bag of popping candy, Jo! It is tight, but it is also THE most random and spontaneous thing I have ever written on. My co-author is a genius, and we have a very similar perspective, so yes, writing this is pure joy!

  3. Thanks Angie! Erm… err… yep, I guess I am! Oh, and you’re the purple thread by the way 😉

  4. Martin Day says:

    Another fascinating post Abi. I am left wondering if your new experiences of writing in this novel are a result of you taking on your collaborators approaches or if it is simply the bringing of the two together to make an entirely new cocktail.

    As for layers or weaving, for me, I’d say both, and metaphor is what writing is about for me. I like my writing to have depth and so defined layers of meaning. I do that by the process of weaving so that the layers are stitched together. I never know if what I have created works for others and am always delighted when someone really ‘get it’. I am attracted to things that have an appearance of something deeper being concealed, but I am too concerned with communication to allow my creations to be impenetrable.

    Something you said put in mind of my experience of lyric writing and the pressures of unexpected editing. Back in the day, when I was writing for the rock band I was in, my lyric output didn’t keep pace with the music output of the guitarist. This meant that, often, I had to make a previously used lyric fit a newly composed tunes. It was sometimes traumatic to take the knife to previously complete and rounded pieces! One example of this was the song ‘Arctic Ostrich’ which previously had four verses and needed to be cut down to two. I didn’t think it could be done but now can’t imagine it any other way. So for your interest here it is … http://www.shallowdeep.com/movie_arctic_ostrich.htm

  5. Hi Martin, thanks ever so for that! Yes, I completely understand your approach, especially when you say about things being concealed and having a deeper meaning, but not so concealed that the reader can’t comprehend them. You are so right! Re the collaboration, it is definitely the coming together of the two – a very magical thing if I’m honest and quite bizarre. Hopefully, you will be able to see the results of this before too long! Thanks for the link – I shall take a look at that now 🙂

  6. Annette says:

    I agree about the adding of metaphor. I often only see on rereading a passage that I have used a particular metaphor and then go through the rest of the script, seeding it with suggestions and possibilities linked to that metaphor. I can see how the weaving works. I think I see it more like a treasure hunt where I drop little clues or scraps which I hope the reader will find and carry with them to the end. I also envision a piece of fiction a bit like a process flow diagram with a timeline. It’s really interesting how we each go about our work and this is a great post, Abi. xxx

    • Aw, thank you, Nettie. I love your analogy to a treasure hunt and the reader discovering the bits we have hidden. I like your idea of a flow diagram too – that’s a very visual one that I can relate to. What fascinates me, Nettie, is that we don’t adopt the same approach with everything we write – at least, I know I don’t. I love the creativity of that in itself!

  7. Emma Pass says:

    I’ve always compared building a story to weaving. For me, it’s one of the most fun things about it. Sometimes things get woven in too soon and have to be plucked out and put back in in later on; other times I realise something needs threading in earlier. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as that moment where you know all the threads are in the right place and the tension between them is just right.

    I love the way you compare your relationships to other people in real life to threads weaving together too – what an interesting way of looking at it!

    • Thanks Em! You see, my writing twin yet again! It is just as you say, pulling out and threading back in again until it is all just so! I think there’s a synchronicity about the people who come into your life that isn’t always definable in a logical way – it’s that whole idea of people appearing when needed, so lives become intertwined in an unexpected way… at least, that’s how it appears to me.

  8. Martin Shone says:

    It’s the same with poetry, I think. As I walk about through the trees or the beach or just the streets, I see little bits here and there and they become woven into a poem at some point perhaps. But I don’t have a specific metaphor for writing.

    Great post as usual, Abi 🙂

  9. Thank you Martin. I think you’re right. The only other time I have written and edited in this way is with my poems, building them over time and weaving in new ideas. Glad you like the post 🙂

  10. Nadine says:

    Although I’m not fond of sewing, thanks to my experience in high school, I loved this post for the way you used this, and other creative activities, to illustrate the writing process.

    The coloured threads fascinate me. Auras immediately spring to mind.

    I think it’s cool the way the collaboration is working out. I’ve often wondered about that, how it works, with all the differences, opinions, and what-not. It sounds like you have a winner on your hands. 🙂


  11. Hi Nadine, thanks ever so much. Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, auras, I think you’re probably right although it’s not something I understand very much about. Yes, the collaboration is magic – full of surprises and I’m enjoying every minute of it!

  12. Jenny Alexander says:

    Metaphors – you gotta love em! I think of weaving, when it comes to plotting fiction – tying in all those lovely sub-plots. As an overall metaphor for all my writing, I think of sculpture. Getting the idea, uncovering something that has potential, getting a sense of what it will be in the first draft – that’s ‘finding the lump.’ Then the redrafting process is crafting the lump, chipping and chiselling, re-imagining and refining… Another gorgeous post – thank you, Abi.

    • Oooh, Jenny. Love your idea of sculpture. I really hadn’t thought of it like that. What a lovely tactile way of looking at it. Thanks ever so and glad you enjoyed it.

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