Crafting a Book: On Doubt

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.

CaseyYork_QuiltBack1

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.

CaseyYork_Longarm

The longarm machine I rent time on at a local quilt shop. Site of much experimentation.

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!

20 thoughts on “Crafting a Book: On Doubt

  1. I love this blogpost & thank you for being so honest. I’m a selftaught handknit designer just starting my first book. Even though i’ve had lots of designs published in the top knitting mags in the US & UK, I often doubt abilities & I think its because of lack of formal design training.

    • Thanks, Anni. I do think the self-taught dynamic plays into this for a lot of crafters. We’ve not necessarily been through the gauntlet of art school critiques, and while I don’t necessarily thing this means that we can’t take criticism, it does mean that we’ve had less experience defending (and validating) our work. Your designs are beautiful, by the way! Best of luck with your book!!

  2. Amen, amen, and amen! I am right there with you, sister. I agree that the year long gap of silence is a big contributor to the feelings of doubt. It’s so hard to know what will be relevant a year from now, and it’s even more difficult to sit and wonder if everything you’ve done is really good enough without the feedback of the community. I’ve seen enough of your work to tell you not to worry — I can’t wait to see what you have waiting for us in that book of yours!

    • Thank you so much, Heidi! (And you are too sweet!) I had a feeling that I wasn’t alone in these feelings, despite the super supportive community that we all enjoy. I’m glad that others identify with my feelings, and I hope we can have a broader conversation on this topic!

  3. I’m so glad that you shared this post and I agree with you, this is a discuss that needs to happen more. It is true that while we would never in a million years recognize flaws in others’ work…we nit-pick everything about our own.

    Thank for stepping up and baring this attribute that so many of us have.

    • Thank you, Kristy!! I think this is a thing that comes up for any crafter who is taking the risk of putting something out there that they created. And this attitude isn’t limited to crafters–it’s a documented phenomenon among graduate and undergraduate students in certain fields. So I think it’s a valuable thing to talk about in our community, too.

  4. This is wonderful! I think it’s so great that you are sharing this. Trust me, there are so many people (myself included) that want to take that plunge into publishing and sharing our work and I think we all fall privy to self doubt at times. My mantra is “the only one standing in my way is me!” I have to remind myself of that when self-doubt creeps in.
    Good luck with the process and it will be great to watch it unfold.

    • Thank you, Christa! I think self-doubt is much more widespread than we like to talk about, and not talking about it makes the problem worse. We’re all so lucky to belong to such a supportive and enthusiastic community, and we should take advantage of that to further everyone’s ambitions!

  5. One thing I’ve found is that the more you put out into the world, the more there is for someone to critique, and critique is inevitable, especially when you write a book. There is no way for your book to be perfect for every reader, or every quilter. Knowing that this public dispaly is ahead is nervewracking! The only thing you can do is your best, and I think that’s pretty great in your case!

  6. I can’t help but feeling as though you’ve just articulated the precise reason why our styles (writing, design, and otherwise) mesh so well. Honestly in reading this I had somewhat of an out of body experience, accompanied by the joyful revelation that we self-taught, shoot-for-the-stars creative types are not alone in our endeavors. To the extent it adds anything of use, there’s one particular blogger who posts the most gorgeous photos, of the most gorgeous work, and try as I may I’m never able to spot a single stitch out of place. Yet ironically, I feel as though the one day I do spot that misplaced stitch (however far off that may be), will be the very day that blogger becomes remotely relatable (to me). In my mind, allowing yourself to be imperfectly perfect is like letting your guard down and permitting others to get that much closer to your world. And isn’t that at least in part what we’re all working towards in this movement, keeping tabs on what all our comrades are up to and supporting one another along the way?

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Sarah. I can identify with your experience, and yet, even in such a supportive community of quilters, letting one’s guard down can be very scary. I think it’s natural to try to show ourselves and our work in it’s best light publicly. I’d bet that the blogger you refer to has the same doubts as all of the rest of us, though.

  7. Wow, what a great post. You put out there exactly what I believe we all feel. Those feelings are daunting and they seem to strike when they want to, no matter how exact or perfect your work is. Thank you for saying what you did, I think everyone feels that way at one time ( more than that for me lol) or another. I look forward to it!

    • Thanks, Candi! I agree that self-doubt seems to strike everyone at some point, and that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to start this conversation. At least we have the fantastic resource of a supportive online community!

  8. Casey this is a fantastic post — went right to the heart of the matters and to the hearts that matter ;) Thanks for pouring yourself onto the tablet and sharing. I dream about writing a book – it’s good to know the stages to be prepared for. I’m yet another untrained – self taught – creative soul. I’m sure glad I found you and you so graciously helped me…. Don’t doubt yourself too much — your work is fantastic! Hugs, Karen

    • Thanks for the virtual hugs, Karen! :) I do think that this is a natural feeling/process that all creatives go through, and that the secrecy of book writing and other large projects exacerbates it. But if you know that it’s normal (and maybe a little inevitable) to feel this way, it becomes much easier to deal with. There is strength in knowing that we’re all in the same boat.

  9. I’m glad I found your blog, Casey, though in the round-about way … through C&T’s blog into Stash and to you! Yes, you can guess with that route, I, too, am contemplating book publishing.

    I’ve read a handful of your posts and appreciate the look at your publication process. It likely only scratches the surface, but still gives a good feel for it. For someone who is unsure about *whether* to make the commitment (I know I CAN do this,) would you recommend contacting the acquisitions editor first?

    Thanks again for the insight. I’ve found your site valuable already, and today was my first look!

    Melanie at Catbird Quilt Studio

  10. Pingback: Crafting a Book: Flow |

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