Sometimes It’s Best to Ask for Help

I’ve been stuck on my knitting recently. Too busy with other things, not making it a priority, and not having enough time to go to knitting group all contributed to my dropping that favorite (only?) non-literary hobby.

When I started again, it felt good… until I lost my mostly-done fingering weight shawl. Which means I lost the gorgeous yarn I had been saving for the right project, the needles, my prized little canvas drawstring project bag, and the hours and hours I had put into it.

So then I stopped knitting. Again.

Luckily, two knitting friends of mine work at the local yarn store, and I went in last week and begged for help. I told them I wanted to be told what to do. I needed a pattern, yarn, and needles. I wanted them to treat me like a beginner, like someone who had no idea what to buy.

“Surely you have needles!” they said.

“Surely you have stash yarn!” they said.

True. I also have a huge queue of patterns, including some I’ve purchased and never tried. But if left up to my own devices, I wouldn’t match those things up and get started again. The energy just wasn’t there to sort through my yarn, or look for the right needles, which are surely already embedded in an unfinished project from two years ago. These knitting friends suggested the right pattern, showed me suitable yarn, and grabbed a set of needles, and I walked out of the store with a new project, ready to go. Which is exactly what I needed.

Sometimes writing is like that too: we get stuck. We panic, or lose energy, or lose focus, or other things get in the way. Sometimes health gets in the way. Or family issues. Sometimes it’s things we can control, other times not. The reason I’m so focused on building literary community, and connecting with other writers, is that sometimes when we get stuck on a project, help from a friend is exactly what we need. That kind of reassurance, or guidance, or just a kind voice wanting you to get on with something you love, is priceless. So is the writer-friend who is willing to read your manuscript and give you comments. Tell you what’s missing or which darlings are getting in the way. Give you the tools–and the encouragement–to revise.

I try to be that person for authors in my community here in Portland, and also online; I’m not blogging, or commenting on others’ blogs, as much as I used to, because of the press, and nourishing existing relationships, but it’s all coming from the same place. Wanting to encourage and empower other writers, wanting to build a platform for their work with the press, and to share behind-the-scenes tips and thoughts to help others keep going.

Probably I would have started knitting again eventually, but my friends made it easier. I asked for help, and they helped me. I already had the tools, and the knowledge, but I didn’t feel ready to put those things together on my own. I didn’t feel motivated because I was so frustrated at losing those hours of shawl knitting when I lost that project.

I am now working on a bright pink single-ply Reversible Turkish Cowl by Sophie Bayard. It’s a two-line pattern, relaxing and lovely, and it’s exactly what I needed. This week, too, a writer friend of mine, whose work I edit regularly, read a piece of mine–a short story that I wasn’t really sure worked–and told me what was missing. I trust her instinct and totally agree, and we think a paragraph will fix it. Instead of letting that piece of writing go, or continuing to worry that it wasn’t story-like enough, I now have an action plan. I had the tools to fix it all along, but she reminded me that I have them, and pointed out specifically where the weak spot was.

Have you reached out for help from another writer recently? Or have you reached out to help someone else?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Community, Fiction, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Sometimes It’s Best to Ask for Help

  1. This post is wonderful and, believe it or not, exactly what I needed right now. Saying no is hard, especially, I think, for us creative types.

  2. Oops! I hit “post” too soon! Also meant to say that knowing when to ask for help and then actually doing so is also particularly difficult. This is a nice reminder that we all need to sometimes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    • You’re so right about that, Edee. I’m terrible at asking for help, so it helped that I could walk into a store and ask for help in deciding what to buy! I’m still working on saying no, but recent events in my life have forced me to pull back some, and I’m learning that lesson a little bit better each day…

  3. So true, Laura. It’s always best to ask. No one can create in a vacuum. I crochet, decoupage, I putter and craft and sell my wares on Etsy. I have learned from the years of crafting that you can learn if you are not afraid to ask.

    I have learned to do that with my writing. I don’t expect to write great literature … but I demand that I learn to be a good writer of popular fiction. I can entertain and delight with words the way I do with yarn or paper and paint.

    Read and write … and don’t forget to cross those needles with your yarn. You’ll thank yourself when that project is finished 🙂

  4. Memoir in progress says:

    I’ve been writing less in the past two months mostly because of travel, getting sick for a month and my paying job getting super busy. I always panic for some reason and think I’ll never write again. The reality is I’m firmly grounded in my writing community and it will return.

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