Knit, write, run, repeat: On slow progress

Long post alert (but with some knitting updates in tow).

I’m coming to recognize and examine a few things about myself:

1.  I like to get lost in work. Different kinds of work. Usually, whatever it is I have to do. Call it engagement, “flow,” or trance, I rely on that state of zoned-out engagement for a sense of balance and productivity.

2.  I am a slow worker. By this, I mean that I like to take my time. Whether preparing a piece of writing, a piece of knitting, or a meal, I like to consider possible alternatives, undo and re-do my efforts, enjoy all the different steps of a process. I’ve often felt that my slowness has been, up until now, a disadvantage. World records, rewards and races endlessly validate speediness; “slowness” gets a bad rap. But, when I work slowly (and can manage to tame the urgent sense that I should work faster), I get the most work done over the long term. Slow work adds up.

When I first became aware of it, my habit of slow work seemed counter-intuitive and almost paradoxical. Business-y internet clip art and related images of productivity have taught me that productivity thrives on speed: doing multiple things on the go, doing them quickly, one after the other, life-hacking tasks to cut the time it takes to do them. But, the more I committed myself to the kinds of projects I actually enjoyed doing, the more I discovered that there are many things to which shortcuts don’t apply. Some very worthwhile processes are not very “efficient” or streamlined at all. For these processes, slow and steady plodding (with its second chances, pauses, and time for deliberation) feels more comfortable to me. I’m starting to appreciate my disposition for slowness, and am beginning to discover its benefits and advantages.

Knitting

I cultivate my inner ‘plodder’ through knitting, which is the ability to create durable and interesting things one stitch at a time. Well-intentioned people have reacted to my knitting in ways that expressed that they thought it was admirable, but amounted to a form of tedium. In those moments, I wished I was capable – through some sci-fi mind melding – to transmit the states of pleasure and engagement that come from working on a project. For me, there’s the zeal of the pattern-search, when I entertain hope and collect aspirations; there’s the thrill of a fresh cast-on; there’s the mid-way chill-out that comes with seeing the knit grow (and growing into the knit); and the satisfaction of the final bind off. All of this, further, comes wrapped up in anticipation and self-doubt: I never know how the thing is actually going to turn out, so I knit for the simple pleasure of seeing what happens. There’s always some dread that a project might end up quite horrible, so I don’t rush to my doom.

I’ve made progress on the recycled yarn sweater of the previous tutorial, posted in April. I recall purchasing and unraveling the sweater in March. I’m mid-way through re-knitting it into a new sweater – 3 months coming! Now, that’s a slow sweater.

WIP 1 5-15-17.jpg
Recycled yarn sweater in progress – half the back! (May 15, 2017)
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Completed back of recycled yarn sweater, thumbtack-blocking on a spare sofa (June 1, 2017)

Writing

Writing provides similar refuge for my slow-plodder. I’ve been working on a writing project for nearly 3 years. I was once told by someone that, were they in my shoes, they would have given up. I wanted to convey to them how I get lured (tricked) into writing, how there is a wave-like cycle that oscillates between productivity and fallow-time, between the momentum of strongly desiring the things I’m going to write and being absolutely sick of the things that I have.

Unlike knitting, where I can watch my knit grow as I inch towards that FO, I’m often caught off-guard, when writing, by how quickly unrelated content can pile up. A big hunk of my written words, I’ve learned, will have to be cut from the next draft. The equivalent to this experience, in knitting, would be to start, say, a scarf, only to discover that a hat, sock, and some other unrecognizable stuff have also started to insinuate themselves onto the needles. Constant mutation! If my knitting constantly shape-shifted in this way, I would be faced with deciding which one of the emerging projects to pursue; this would come with a twinge of pain at having to say no to some very promising beginnings without any guarantee that they’d be completed later. Having newly committed, say, to knitting the sock instead of the scarf, I might once again find myself re-directed by some new emergent stuff and have to re-decide what it is I’m doing. This is how uncertain and non-linear the process of writing feels to me.

On still other days, there’s just the blankness to contend with. Either way, in the past, I could only make it to the writing table kicking and screaming.

The fear abides. But, I’ve learned that I can make things a little more bearable if I plod gently and slowly: I work my way to the chair, put on some music. I try to keep in mind that none of it is set in stone, and doodle things with pens that no one will see. I work one word at a time, one tiny revision at a time – time enough to build that awkward sentence, register that up-welling horror, and then take a gentler, more yielding stance to it, reworking it where I can. With slowness comes some space to practice forgiving myself, as I go, for all of the bad prose produced. I’m discovering that writing can be a valuable exercise in self-acceptance; the fear is always there.

Running

More recently, I’ve found a new home for my slow, plodding ways: running. Not the race-you-to-the-fence kind of running, but the kind done slowly, at your own pace.  Jogging, I guess.

Last weekend, my partner and I ran Chicago’s 5K Ridge Run. I ran the course in 40 minutes (a plodding 13-minute mile). I found myself – a barely trained running neophyte – having to slow my pace down in order to keep going. But, this pace was slow enough for me to not have to hurriedly toss the little cups of water they hand you to the ground (which felt wrong, the course was in a residential neighbourhood). Instead, I simply jogged to the nearest bin. It was slow enough to see and appreciate the good folks who had shown up, on their own time, to cheer the runners on. And it was slow enough to register the odd bit of chatter between runners –  the way one mother explained to her small daughter the meaning of the word determination (“it means you don’t give up even when something gets really hard”).

ridge run5
Start at the beginning. At the starting line of Chicago’s 40th annual 5K Ridge Run, May 29th.

We ran in honour and memory of my partner’s father – a seasoned and dedicated runner who ran a Ridge Run (10K or 5K) every single year since the race’s beginnings in 1977. That’s an unwavering 39 races run, over 39 years, in addition to a number of marathons also run, over the years, and all the training that happened in between. I have always been amazed and inspired by this example of commitment. He was able to not only complete courses most would find harrowing, but to maintain his dedication to the sport over decades.

It’s an example to live by.


How do you work best? And how do you, on larger projects, keep motivation alive long enough to go from start to finish?

Happy making, friends. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.

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22 thoughts on “Knit, write, run, repeat: On slow progress

  1. Where do I start on my comments?
    Well enjoyed this post of course as usual. Congrats on the 5K! Sorry your partner’s loss.
    Plodding is just fine if you are having fun in life. I love the quote by Lao Tzu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”. You are making a sweater from recycled yarn – you are my eco-craft hero 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautiful thought, Tierney. I agree – I like to think non-hurrying has its merits and its examples in the natural world. Thinking of those examples is inspiring. 🙂 Aw, thank you for the kind words. 🙂

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  2. Hi Shirley–I love this post and your thoughts. I have long considered myself a slow reader (and learned to love that about me–to savor each work in the novel and not rush to the finish). As for knitting, I don’t mind the plodding; it’s so relaxing just to put one stitch after another 🙂 Congrats on the race; so lovely that you ran in honor of your partner’s dad. Way to go! The sweater looks wonderful, by the way; and what a great use of the yarn!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Melissa, for your kind words and comments. I’m glad to read that slowness is something you value as well. It’s just as you write – taking time to savor things and relaxing into a process. Though I admire your incredible prolific-ness in your recent sweater-knitting adventures. Wow!

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  3. Plodding can be seen as being thorough. How many times in the past have you rushed something only to be disappointed in the result?! I do both – rush and plod, depending on the event/item/my mood/what else is going on in life!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Christina. There’s a lot to appreciate in being thorough, I think. How interesting to know that you combine both depending on the situation – I’m always interested to know how multi-talented and productive crafters get it done. Thank you! 🙂

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  4. So much running and speeding and multitasking is totally unproductive. Most people stress themselves out thinking how busy they are, or how important everything they do is. Most of the time, slowing down brings focus, and much more productivity. I have no doubt you are more productive, and less stressed than many. Same for knitting. I think it is better to take your time and enjoy the process, deadlines can be fun when you want to challenge yourself, but only if you want it. I like that you celebrate your own rythm. And bravo for running such a long distance.

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    1. Thanks, Agnes, for your thoughts. It would be fun to eventually work up to a deadline challenge, or a knit a long, or something similar where one can be challenged by a group. For the meantime, I’m learning to enjoy doing things at my turtle-pace. You’re absolutely right about focus. 🙂 Again, beautiful work on the Janet Leigh!

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  5. As a younger person I was more of a procrastinator. Over the years I learned that I actually do like to get things done, and I don’t enjoy the stress of pushing at the last minute. Now I’m more likely to start early and take my time. I’m not sure “plodding” is the right word for me, but I certainly get that!

    Congrats on your 5K! As a non-runner, who has recently begun running for up to 3.5 minutes at a time on the treadmill, I know that is a skill to develop!

    (Sent here by Tierney’s post. I’m glad to meet you!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your visit and comments, Melanie. 🙂 I identify with procrastinator tendencies as well, and you’re absolutely right – having time to start early enough to work calmly is a great way to get things done.

      Thank you – it was a run-walk, so very forgiving. Congrats to you, too, on your recent running gains. Wow! Wishing you lots more happy running. 🙂

      (I’m a big fan of Tierney’s blog. Glad to meet you, too, Melanie!).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I so enjoyed your post, Shirley! Because at heart I’m a plodder too, and it’s good to see someone stand up and defend the pleasures of slow working. Since I first dipped my toe into the world of crafting and markets, I’ve felt a bit like I should get more involved in the “hustle” of it all… work faster, set deadlines and generally be more professional about things. Sure, sometimes I do enjoy the rush of an impending deadline… But there’s no way I’d want to work like that all the time! So, thanks for sticking up for tortoises everywhere. And congratulations on completing the Ridge Run, too! Here’s wishing you a nice, slooooow weekend 😀

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    1. Glad to know you’re a kindred spirit, Helen! I have always wanted to know how folks with craft businesses manage all the very different kinds of work involved – setting and meeting deadlines, managing communication / promotion, while at the same time also performing the actual creative labour (!) and making creative decisions. It is so impressive, and so evident from your blog and Beasties that a lot of care and love go into the making and sharing – the pleasure of slow work shows. 🙂 In other words, the proof is in the plodding! 😀

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      1. Hahaha, I love it! And yes, juggling all of those different tasks is tricky sometimes… But for me it sure beats having a regular full-time job! I’m not big on routine, so being able to switch up my working day when I feel like it is brilliant. How do you fit your creative life around your working life?

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      2. I hear you! I have a flexible student schedule this year, so I will usually craft at night as a ‘reward’ for having done all the other tasks of the day. The trick there, I find, is to still find time for sleep, lol! Thanks for your thoughts, Helen!

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  7. im definately a slow worker! Thats part of the reason why i don’t join knit-alongs…actually we should make a 5 year knit-a-long! 😉 I usually hang my mouth open when I watch podcasts and people show what they’ve knitted during their last podcast (a week ago) and show five or six different projects. i feel better though plodding along than rushing myself through things. i hate putting unnecessary stress on myself especially when its a creative project and i want to enjoy the process of making 🙂 i LOVE the fact you write about the topic 🙂 its great to see people have some modesty and not afraid to step out and admit that they prefer to take their time with these things 🙂 ❤

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  8. Thanks for your thoughts, and happy to know you relate to the post. 🙂 A 5-year KAL sounds right at my pace! (I have never joined one either). I share your thoughts – I like to have the creative time be enjoyable rather than rushed, if I can help it, but am always amazed by crafters/knitters who can make a lot of stuff. Your knits are beautiful – the time you take to make them surely shows!

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