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  • Writer's pictureMichelle

Hand Work

I've been writing by hand lately, scrawling stories in ink across the pages of a decomposition book. I've also been doing a lot of hand-embroidery while I work out the plot.

It's slow and sometimes I get cramps in my hands, but I can hear the story this way. Or maybe I feel it. Or both. When a story comes to me, asking to be told, it's a very physical sensation. I begin to feel like there's another body living inside mine, laid over my bones and under my skin, with its own pulse and its own temperature and its own mind. Sometimes it appears there seemingly overnight, fully realized, so almost-solid I can let it all rush out onto the page and be done with it (other than polishing, with the help of my favorite editor). That's what usually happens with my short stories: I don't imagine them, they take up residence in my body.

Longer projects are trickier. I've always had a little trouble with commitment, a little trouble finishing things that take too long. I suspect my problem is a combination of a short attention span, a lack of confidence in my ability to make something big work, and life's unpredictability. But I also think maybe, for many years, I was trying to tell the wrong stories. Marketable stories. Elevator-pitch-enabled stories. And for some reason I thought ladies with swords and knives were characters I could understand, though in real life the most deadly thing I handle is a kitchen knife. And I handle it badly.

I'm working on something longer now, and the process has been very dreamy. I feel like I have to write longhand, like this second-self in my body can't grow, breathe, or speak when there's a computer in front of me. I'm not sure why: Is it the electromagnetic field? The glare of the backlit screen? The abundance of distractions (hello internet!)? Or is it the speed? I type fast. I also tend to type pretty carelessly and hit delete a lot. Maybe this story can't be born clickety-clackity fast. Maybe it needs the deliberate pace of hand-writing, the quiet of it, to flow into being.

As I'm dreaming the details of the story - what happens next, what happened before, what is happening now - I'm spending a lot of time hand-embroidering. I've always loved the meditative quality of embroidery, and it's the perfect companion for story-plotting. As the story unfolds, the slow repetitive nature of hand stitching keeps me still enough to feel that second body's shape and texture, and to listen to its sleepy whisper.

Both hand-writing and hand-stitching are slow processes: you can spend hours on something and not have a lot to show for it. But right now it feels good to let this process happen. There's something magical at work in this story: it's been asking me to tell it for years now and it's a relief to be doing it, even if it takes me another decade to finish

And whether or not the story works out, by the time it's done I'll be really good at French knots.

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Image by Annie Spratt

Michelle Simkins

polytheist . writer . maker . witch

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