Why writing is like knitting...


Let me explain.

Right now, I'm in the middle of knitting a patterned jumper that I designed myself, and as I was designing (and knitting) it, it struck me that there are a number of common themes between writing a book and knitting a sweater.

Pattern (plot)  

The pattern (plot) shouldn't be too busy or complicated, otherwise the overall result will be masked. There should be enough complexity to keep it interesting, but you should still be able to see an overall design. I feel the same way about a plot... there should be complexities and detail, but not too much. I've read books both with too little plot (making them dull) and also ones with too many different strands (making them impossible to follow). Or a plot strands that was introduced at the start and then not seen again until three quarters of the way through the book, and then only picked up again right at the end. For me, in a sweater, this would be like doing one round of pattern near the neck or hem, then knitting another pattern entirely for much of the garment, then doing a few rows of pattern 1 part way through, then another bit just as I was casting off. It doesn't work (for me) in a book and it doesn't work (for me) in a sweater, either. It's fine to have several patterns (plot strands), but they need to get fairly equal, and even, representation.

Colour balance (characters)

In a sweater, the colours should go together. That's not to say they should all be the same, or even in the same palette. Often a small amount of a very bright colour can really change the character of a piece of knitting, in the same way that a very loud or intense character can influence the overall feel of a book. You can't have all the characters as loud and brash and in your face, or none of them would stand out. Nor do you want them all the same. But the blend of them together should allow them to complement one another.


In my experience, a book has a natural length. Sometimes this is a fairly short and snappy length. Sometimes (looking at you, "War"!) the book needs space to grow. I've read many a book where it felt as if there was a big wodge of padding, about three quarters of the way through, that added little to the plot or characterisation but seemed to be there just to make the book a particular length. I've also read books where it's felt as if there had been a massive cutting session to remove a vast chunk of the book, to make it shorter.

A wrap cardigan doesn't suddenly need extra rows added to make it hip-length, and a knitted coat needs to keep your bum warm.


In knitting, the ends need weaving in, pieces may need to be joined together, the garment way well need to be 'blocked' (wetted and then manipulated a little to even out stitches and give a good finish). You can never really cast a garment off the needles and instantly wear it. Nor can you stop typing/put your pen down at the end of a first draft of a book and say "It's done!" Ends need weaving in; any mistakes need sorting out; it needs 'finishing'.

The little people in my head are trying to talk to me again. They've been silent for so long, they're needing a bit of time to find their voices I think. But while I'm waiting for them to come back as loudly as they used to be, I'm knitting my sweater and thinking about plots, patterns, character strands and colour, and convincing myself that I'll be writing again soon.

I hope.