Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Late today, because the computer was sick - needed a new power supply. I've been writing a blog post in my head all day, but it seems to be two posts intertwined and I'm not sure I can separate them out enough. And it's late and I feel crappy, so I'll take the shortest component I can tease out.

I've remarked more than once on the difference between brains and their capacities at different periods of our lives. The advantage of the mature brain is that, though it has trouble learning brand new things, if it was trained well during its early years, it doesn't have to; it can recognize commonalities between this new thing it's doing and that old thing that it's done before, a hundred different times, in a hundred different guises.

But I was reminded again this weekend that you can't afford to get cocky about that. Not, at any rate, in any creative activity. Because each time you do it is different.

In this case, it was the slacks. I cut the waistband too small. As far as I could (or can) tell, I cut it exactly the same size as I did last time I made that pattern, and I can still wear the slacks I made that time; but I could barely get into the new ones and they would not have been comfortable to wear. Either I'd marked the pattern wrong, or something was different about the fabric, or - something. This morning I recut them (this is why I always buy at least half an extra yard of fabric; it leaves me with a varied stack of remnants too small to make a garment of, but it gives me lots of room to make mistakes) and now they fit, at last.

But I've found the same thing with other projects. This or that rhetorical trick, structural element, viewpoint, whatever, worked last time I wrote a story; but it won't work for this one. I can fight it, or I can try something different. I worked well with this editor on that book, but she's not right for this one. The greatest sonneteer in the world will write a bad sonnet if the poem in question is really a haiku.

You've got to work with what you've got, not with what you used last time.

Just because you know how to do something, doesn't mean you'll do it right this time.

The mature brain can't make much in the way of new synapses; but it can still be flexible.


  1. Just to make the analogy complete - I was working on two pairs of slacks at the same time, made the same error on both, and wound up having to toss one completely because the seams frayed so badly, once I finished fixing the way I screwed up the zipper and then had to change the waistband, there wasn't enough fabric to attach the waistband at crucial points.

    Not everything you start gets finished. It just doesn't. It's like shrinkage at a convenience store - part of the cost of doing business.