So, this post is mostly about my personal feelings during the writing of the book or, more specifically, on a specific emotional obstacle that I worked hard to overcome. It may be that I’m just airing my neuroses to the world, here. However, I think that all creative types may come up against this obstacle from time to time, and it’s only honest for me to talk about it in a series that’s supposed to be about the process of publishing a book. So I hope you’ll bear with me.
First, a disclosure. When it comes to design, I’m primarily self-taught. As in, never took a course past Art 101 in college. Not that I didn’t want to–in high school I actually assumed that I’d eventually work in an arts field. But I couldn’t get into college art courses for bureaucratic reasons and in the meantime I fell in love with art history and decided to pursue a career there, so anything I know past freshman year has been learned outside of formal teaching.
I’m also a self-taught quilter. My mom taught me to sew at a young age, but I cut my teeth on garment sewing and toy making and never attempted to make a quilt until I had my first child. Tips from my fantastic mother-in-law came in handy then, but I’ve never had honest-to-goodness tutelage when it comes to quilt making. And now I’m writing a book about it.
Late last year, there was a lot of talk in the on-line quilting world about quality–rightly so, I think. But while I whole-heartedly agreed with the charge for quality, in private these conversations made my ears burn (as in, “are they talking about quilters like me??”). Because I’m a perfectionist and self-taught and I don’t always know if my quilts will live up to the standards that others might apply to them.
Speaking honestly, they don’t always live up to my own standards. They’re not perfect, and perfection is always my (unrealistic) goal. I’m also always seeing new things that I want to try, and I’m certainly not going to achieve perfect, or even good enough, results on the first try. But I don’t think that that’s a good reason not to put things out there. I’m exquisitely aware that my technical skills don’t always match up with my artistic aims, and yet those aims are so compelling that they drive me to experiment even at the cost of non-perfection (or outright failure, but I don’t publish those projects ;) ). So I’m a little nervous about how my technical skills live up to those of other quilt industry professionals–namely, other quilting book authors.
Now, it’s always said that we are our own harshest critics. That we are compelled to focus on (and even point out to others) the flaws in our work because we know where they are, even when other viewers would never have noticed them. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I also think that this tendency takes on an added dimension when one is working on something that will one day become public, but that needs to be kept under wraps for a while. Because in this instance, if the voices in our own heads are (scathingly) critical, what voices are there to counteract them? It’s not as if we can readily seek out the positive feedback of a quilt guild show-and-tell when our projects have to be kept under wraps for a year or more. And absent a positive counter-voice, it’s easy to fall into a critical echo-chamber of self-doubt about one’s technique, one’s design, or a multitude of other aspects of one’s work.
I’m not writing this to bemoan the writing/making process, nor am I writing to pre-emptively excuse shoddy technique in my own work. I know, rationally, that I did the absolute best work that I could on the quilts that will be in my book. I also believe that their designs are unique and that my writing for the book is well-done, so I know that the final product will be a high-quality one. But I have the feeling that many other people in our industry suffer the same self-doubt–because it’s part of the process–and I wished during my lower moments that there were more open talk about it out there. I’m also claiming to give you the low-down on writing a book, here, and this is definitely a less glamorous but equally pressing part of the process. And if it’s universal (and not just my own neuroses) I fear the possibility that others might be held back by such self-doubt, and I wonder what riches we might be missing out on if they are.
So, apologies for the soul-bearing here. But I thought this was an important part of the publishing process to document, if only because maybe someone after me will experience the same thing. And I’m not even sure that it’s an entirely bad thing, since acknowledging our shortcomings leads, in our best hours, to striving for better things. But it can sure be a downer in the moment, and I’d like to encourage all of you strivers out there to not let it stop you.
Thanks again for reading, and have a great weekend!