Tag Archives: Writing

An Ode to Half Square Triangles

It’s time to dust off an old post (January 23, 2015) and replay it for those who missed it.

An Ode to Half Square Triangles

How do I make thee? Let me count the ways.
I cut thee to the depth and breadth and height
Seven-eighths of an inch greater than finished
And then cut across the diagonal.
I make thee to the level of the HST ruler
Available from Fons & Porter and others.
I make thee with Thangles, stitching through the paper.
I make thee in sets of eight, filling me with praise.
I use thee with the passion putting you to use
In my old UFOs, and with my next children’s quilts.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost senses. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if fates choose,
I shall but love thee better after quilting.


And the inspiration:

How Do I Love Thee (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

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What’s the Worst that Would Happen …?

[Note: I published this long ago, in the early days of this blog. Recently I read a post by Kathy Loomis on fear and art, wondering if we focus on the fear too much, teaching fear rather than boldness. That may be so. But the most important thing to learn about fear in art and in most making is, there is really nothing to be afraid of. In that context, I post this again.]

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “Usually I’m a pretty good cook… today was not one of those days. Man did I mess breakfast up. Oh well, the dogs liked it.”

I said, “If you ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that would happen if…’ and the answer is that the dogs will get to eat it, you might as well try it!”

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t try in my quilting. Sometimes I actually don’t have interest in a technique or style. Sometimes I do but feel a little (or a lot) intimidated. While I definitely have favorite styles and colors, I want to push my creativity by being open to failure. I want to, but honestly sometimes I have trouble doing so.

There are many sports metaphors about risk and winning – Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote is “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” However, we don’t always apply the same thinking to our art. In reading about creativity, I understand that we don’t take risks because we fear failure. Really, failure or success is determined by setting some standard to reach, and then measuring whether or not we reached it. The worst part is, we set our own standards in quilting, and usually we set them too high. We hesitate to try new things because we fear we won’t do them as well as our heroes, or as well as the best thing we ourselves ever did, or because we are worried about others’ opinions.

Another facet of “failure” for me is I am a finisher. If I try something, I want the results to be “good enough” to finish the project. (Others might have an odd fear of success with the same result — those who don’t finish projects may not wish the obligation that comes with a successful experiment!)

Could we measure success as having been bold enough to try something new, and having learned something from it? Then every project we undertake could be a success. And every experiment would be its own finish, with or without a completed project.

Another friend, an actor, talked to me recently about stage fright. A particularly bad commercial shoot several years ago led to lingering anxiety about how each “next shoot” would go. But the stage fright makes him angry and he refuses to succumb to it, becoming stronger all the time in overcoming it. He says, “Perhaps we are too ‘full of ourselves’ and think that we should be ‘perfect’…and when we are not, we just can’t handle the thought….”

Stage fright, writer’s block, quilting fear, all part of the same structure. There is fear to try, to be judged a failure, if only by ourselves.

In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she talks about the process of creation. As a writer, she’s well aware of the desire to create perfection each time we begin a new project.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Or more bluntly from her, “In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

Shitty first drafts, practice blocks, even finished quilts we assess as failures, are the predecessors of better work. Go ahead and write that shitty first draft. Only when we begin something can we learn from it, improve on it, and be done with it, one way or another.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of bestselling Eat, Pray, Love, gave a TED talk about the elusive nature of creative genius. Genius, inspiration, the “muse,” when they show up at all, sometimes show up at inopportune times. Whether or not genius shows up, she says, keep at it, keep showing up. Do your job, whether or not genius does.

At the end of the talk she reiterates, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be daunted. Just do your job.

Sometimes it feels like we’re doing our job with little guidance, no clear path.

Anne Lamott again:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

It’s okay to not know where you’re going, or how it will turn out. Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t be afraid. If the worst that would happen is the dogs eat the breakfast, the first draft is shitty, or the block goes into a pile of orphans, try it anyway.

What’s the worst that would happen?

Power Builders 04.03.15

This is Week #9 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak, from Wikipedia’s entry on “Writer.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writer

Do you need to be published to be a writer? No. You just need to write. Writers write. Here are a few links about writing, storytelling, and persuasion. I’m not sure if they are inspiring, but perhaps they’ll lead you to think about how we communicate with others.

1) Three truths about writing, from Parker J. Palmer, via On Being With Krista Tippett.

2) From vox.com, “Want to know the secret to all good storytelling — and even all good writing?” We’re treated to three more essentials, this time words, which lead to more effective writing. We’re also warned off from the toxic connector, “and then.”

3) I’ve started following Seth Godin’s blog. He “is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.” His blog includes mostly short notes on how we convey information, tell stories, and sell ourselves and our products. Here is a very short post from last year.

4) Writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell.” Our brains are visually-oriented. This post from IFL Science (via ArtsJournal) describes research into how we process words on the page, as pictures. Perhaps we need to rethink the old advice and figure out how to make our words even more visual.

5) The picture superiority effect is the impact of pictures on memory retention. Words PLUS pictures leads to better retention.

6) But as for persuasion, the written word and pictures aren’t very useful in changing someone’s mind. You can confirm for them what they already believe, and provide examples and supports for that view. But if they have the opposite view from what is written, it will not convince them they are wrong. Facts just don’t matter. Instead, try a spoken conversation. Ask them to explain, in detail, why they believe what they do. What are the mechanisms by which their theory works? This video explains how to change someone’s mind.

What has inspired you this week? Let us know in comments.

An Ode to Half Square Triangles

How do I make thee? Let me count the ways.
I cut thee to the depth and breadth and height
Seven-eighths of an inch greater than finished
And then cut across the diagonal.
I make thee to the level of the HST ruler
Available from Fons & Porter and others.
I make thee with Thangles, stitching through the paper.
I make thee in sets of eight, filling me with praise.
I use thee with the passion putting you to use
In my old UFOs, and with my next children’s quilts.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost senses. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if fates choose,
I shall but love thee better after quilting.


How Do I Love Thee (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Good News, Bad News…

I submitted a short story this morning to the quilting magazine, The Quilt Life. It’s the production featuring Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims. One thing I enjoyed about it was the approach, looking at quilting from multiple angles. It was NOT just a pattern magazine.

So… I emailed the story in and immediately received an automated response — thanks but don’t call us, we’ll call you.

And about ten minutes ago I received another email. This was from the Editor-in-Chief. Imagine such immediate feedback! I was stoked!

She said, “HI Melanie, I love it!”

And then she said, “Unfortunately, the American Quilter’s Society has decided to cease publication of The Quilt Life. The October issue will be the last one.

You could shop it around to other quilt magazines and get a response, I’m sure. Good luck!”

Well, so the good news is, she LOVED it!