If You Care, Prepare

This piece originally appeared in my email Letters from Verity which you can subscribe to here.

In most areas of my life, I’m a prepper. If I’m about to go on a trip, you can bet your yearly income on my preparedness. I’ll have everything cleaned, organised, and planned out long before I leave the house. Every eventuality will have been considered – which is why the gas bottle will live on the balcony while I’m away and all the power will be switched off at the board… It might be overkill, but it puts my mind at ease.

Preparation gives me peace of mind.

Why is it, then, that as soon as it comes to my creative work preparation goes right out the window? I jump right in feet first without so much as an outline of what I want to achieve. Sometimes it turns out great, but often I’m left wondering if I made the most of the inspiration and energy I put into my project. Could I have done more with it if I’d included some steps for preparatory work?

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression – I believe in starting before you feel ready. I know that in life you never feel ready, and to wait for that feeling is death to your creative and personal growth. What I’m talking about here is task or project-specific preparation.

If you have an idea for a new project or you’re about to take on a new task, you’ll serve yourself best by including some preparation. It will guide you, focus you, and as my knitting has taught me, it will give you a chance to identify any obstacles you may encounter, adjust for them, and avoid having to go back and fix stuff or, God forbid, start from scratch.

Starting from scratch isn’t always a bad idea. I’ve done it often in situations where it was just easier to start fresh than try to fix something that wasn’t working.

But, have you ever got close to the end of knitting a sweater only to realise that in one of your ribbing rows you purled instead of knitting the stitch and the pattern is totally (and very visibly) off? Or maybe you realised the size was way off and that you should have knitted a trial gauge instead of winging it? Seasoned knitters, please excuse my rookie mistakes.

With a small amount of preparatory work, I could have avoided both those problems. Some mishaps, like a broken ribbing pattern, can be lived with. Others, like a too-small sweater, cannot. (Sidenote: I could not live with the broken ribbing pattern…)

What you realise in those moments when it dawns on you that you cannot live with the mistakes you made in your lovely knitted thing is that you put a lot of time and energy into creating it. It hurts a touch to have to start over – there’s definite discouragement as you begin to pull your knitting off the needle, maybe even a tear in your eye.

Knitting is the perfect way to learn the power of preparation. You can’t simply set the ruined knitted thing aside and start a new one. Oh, no. Wool is a valuable resource in knitting. You have to pull the knitting from the needle and watch helplessly as the stitches you tried so hard not to drop dangle freely, precariously, untethered. And then, you have to pull down your work stitch by stitch, watching your hard work retreat all the way back to the cast-on edge in order to reuse the wool. It is painful stuff pulling down your knitting to start over. It is visceral.

And sometimes you just don’t start over. Because now you know how much time and effort it’s going to take. And you just can’t, not today – maybe tomorrow, maybe never. What a shame that would be. Because it’s an incredible feeling to get to the end of creating something and have it work out (or fit).

It’s true, you can learn from your mistakes – as long as you do start over. But here’s what knitting has taught me: do a little preparation if it’s important to you and/or takes up your time and energy.

A minute to learn how to ‘read my knitting’ so I’m better able to see whether I need to purl or knit the next stitch instead of relying on my memory, or taking the time to knit up a gauge to check I’m using the right size needles and wool – these are preparatory steps that could have saved me time and tears.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”— Abraham Lincoln

There are times to wing it, there are times to jump right in, but there are also times when a little preparation can go a long way to helping you avoid obstacles and finish successfully.

I’ve never chopped down a tree before, but Lincoln’s words have never rung truer than they do now to this novice knitter.

Hey! What Do You Think?