Where “You. Can. Do. This.” comes from: A story of missionaries, a war zone, knitting, and a big mouth.

By Holly Lisle

“You can do this.” It’s the thing I tell writers. It’s the thing I tell anyone who’s afraid to try something different, new, difficult, scary.

“You can do this.” When I say it, I mean it, because I have lived it, over and over and over.

But this story is about the first time I lived it, and it starts in 1975, in Chiquimula, Guatemala, with me opening my big mouth.

It starts with a missionary minister named Peckerhead (pretty sure his last name was Douchebag), and his wife Whoopsie. (All names of church folks not related to me have been changed in this story since Peckerhead and Whoopsie would have to be pretty damned old by now, but they might still be alive.)

And it starts with a visiting delegation of Quakers who were in Chiquimula to tour the Friends Mission, probably invited in the hopes of those same visitors leaving big donations to help keep the place running.

Why the hell were we in Guatemala?

Good question.

In theory, my parents were in Guatemala so that my dad could handle the mission finances, and so that my mother could be the hostess for the visitor guest house/ rooming house for single missionaries.

In fact, we were living in the middle of a freakin’ war zone (Guatemala’s civil war was alive and kicking and leaving head-high lines of bloody bullet holes on the walls of ancient church ruins in our very town, just a few blocks from our house) BECAUSE Mom thought she could blackmail God into healing my sister of cerebral palsy and mental retardation if she became a missionary, and because she’d strong-armed my dad into getting into this (poor guy thought he might be able to at least get some decent hunting and fishing out of the adventure, but no. Not in a war zone).

And I and my younger siblings were not at boarding school. We were sitting in the mission house of a deeply unpopular religion (Central America is pretty much pure Catholic, and Protestants of any stripe, including Quakers, were still The Bad Guys), and because in spite of the gawdawful number of mistakes my parents made — (Re-read the previous paragraphs, imagine you had three kids and the same ‘opportunity’, and start listing their mistakes. It’s a fun game.) — …in SPITE of their mistakes, my parents did one thing right.

Even under pressure from their fellow missionaries to send us off to boarding school in Huehuetenango, my parents refused and kept all three of us with them.

Keeping us around might have even seemed like a mistake even to my parents sometimes (most certainly in the story I’m about to tell, which had to have made them question not sending ME off, at least)… but come 3AM on February 4th, 1976 when the earthquake hit, they were the only missionary parents who knew right away that their kids were still alive. Or would know for quite some time. After the earthquake, the other missionaries’ kids were 135 miles away, across ranges of mountains, separated by roads that had fallen off the mountains during the quake, and blocked by rock falls — in a country at war with itself that had mostly non-existent long-distance communications.

In 1976, the majority of Guatemala (including the town I lived in) had no running water, iffy electricity, terrible roads, the ongoing war, and nothing even remotely like telephone access from town to town. Or even IN town.

I’ve never been back, but based on what I experienced living there, I’m betting there are still parts of the country up in the mountains that don’t have phone access. Or electricity. Or running water.


This story is about the dinner for that visiting delegation of Quaker tourists whom Peckerhead was hoping to hit up for donations after their visit. All of us and all of them were seated at a long, long table, with the maids serving local foods the cook had made. (Yup… missionaries with cooks and maids — I thought that was weird, too).

And Peckerhead (who was fluent in English and Spanish and knew a bit of some of the local aboriginal dialects) was blathering on to his rapt audience about the inferiority of the Spanish language to English, and how ridiculous some of the conventions of Spanish verbs were — and he decided to use SER and ESTAR as his examples.

Both words mean “Is/Are”.  She IS pretty. He IS old. She IS married. He IS cute.

But SER is used to describe things with conditions that are permanent.

ESTAR is used to describe things with conditions that are temporary.

And Peckerhead explained in some detail the meanings of these two verbs to his audience as part of the story he was telling, because he told them he had found something absolutely hilarious (and as he put it, stupid) about Spanish.

Keep in mind that this minister who is the head of the Chiquimula mission is telling this story to a long table seated around which are fellow missionaries, three kids, and about twenty deeply religious people who’ve paid a bunch of money to travel to a Quaker mission in the middle of a war zone, because this mission in this place matters to them.

“The crazy thing is,” he said, after describing the uses of SER and ESTAR, “that Spanish uses the verb ESTAR, the one that means things are temporary, to describe death.”

He was expecting a big laugh after that line. There were, instead, a couple of polite chuckles that sputtered out quickly.

Which is when I (a fifteen-year-old complete nonbeliever with absolutely no filters who nonetheless knew her Bible quite well) piped up with the words, “But according to the Bible, death is supposed to be temporary.”




And THERE was the laugh Peckerhead had been expecting to get.




It was deep and loud and rich, and it lasted a long time — and it was at Peckerhead rather than with him — and to make matters worse, Whoopsie, who had no doubt listened to that pedantic jerk tell that story a lot of times to a lot of audiences (he had his patter down, and it was a smooth, smooth telling), was laughing her ass off, too. And she blurted out in the sort of voice that carries across oceans, not just tables, “Oh my God, Peckerhead… SHE’S RIGHT!!!”

Cue killer glare from Peckerhead to me.

Cue the small, smug grin on my father’s face. He didn’t like Peckerhead, who was an arrogant blowhard.

My mother had her eyes closed, and a pained expression on her face.  She was no doubt thinking (and not for the first time) Condom. Condom. Condom. We should have used a condom. 

Can’t see how this ties in to “you can do this” or writing fiction, or even knitting? Hang in. It’s coming.

Fast-forward a few months to Christmas Day, which, it being a religious holiday, all the missionaries celebrated together in the library of the Guest House.

Everyone was getting and giving gifts, and all the missionaries got gifts for all the children, not just their own. This was non-optional. All missionaries gave one gift to each child, and were informed in advance which children would be there so that they could be given gifts.

This was NOT some lavish extravaganza. None of the gifts were big, because missionaries make almost no money, and everything given had been purchased on the local economy. We got things like sandals made with soles scavenged from worn-out tires (these are really cool — they are rugged, comfortable, practical, and I had mine for years, until I finally lost them in one of many moves), and hand-woven scarves or blouses (Guatamalan weaving is gorgeous, and those gifts were spectacular)… but it was one gift per family per kid.

The gifts were almost uniformly wrapped in real wrapping paper (brought in from the US). Almost uniformly had a ribbon around them (with the ribbons saved because they would be re-usable the next time someone needed a present).

I got a couple nice things. A book. A blouse.

And then my gift from Whoopsie and Peckerhead.

It was in a used, wrinkled brown paper bag. No ribbon, no attempt to make it look like anything but “You are out of favor, you big-mouthed kid.”

In it were two bent, battered, clearly used sticks. A pair of knitting needles — long, thin, painted gold but with some of the paint scratched off. And a small ball of red string. Used, ratty, thin string. Twine. Coarse, scratchy, thin red twine.

It was a gift (technically). I had not owned it before the exchange. I owned it afterwards.

But it was a “letter of the law, not a spirit of the law” gift.

They had to give me something. It was clearly the shittiest thing they could think of to give me, presented in the shittiest way they could think of to give it to me.

I looked at my gift — clearly a “we don’t like you” gift. Looked at them. No smiles, no “Merry Christmas.” No pretense. I had embarrassed the shit out of the guy who was the head of the Chiquimula mission in front of a room full of people who were supposed to see him as a Great Man Doing Great Works, who happened to be one of the big guys over all the Quaker missions in that area.

Whoopsie probably knew how to knit, since she’d owned that pair of used needles — but she did not offer to teach me, nor did she include any instructions or a little book or ANYTHING.

Fine by me. War had been declared. Two used sticks. A dirty ball of skinny cotton string.

Okay, I thought. I can work with that.

Fifteen-year-olds are difficult people.

Contrary, obnoxious, full of alien hormones and horrifying desires they can’t control and energy that has to go somewhere…

It’s tough being fifteen in your home country (I know because after the earthquake, I got to do that, too.)

But in a foreign country, mix that with being a beginning speaker of the local language — so it was hard to make friends — and having absolutely NOBODY who will discuss or explain your alien urges and desires and changes your body is going through — remember, MISSIONARIES — and being cooped up in the mission compound almost all the time because WAR ZONE — and then ice this particular Hell cake with the fact that fifteen is the age where in Latino cultures girls become women — which means that to a certain sort of Latino male, this means “open season” has just been declared on YOU.

In those circumstances, you can become a really special kind of crazy.

I was all the way there.  SPECIAL crazy.

So, hit on and touched and smirked at by scary guys if I dared to go out alone… (NEVER WALK ALONE)… followed by staying cooped up and isolated most of the time — (I’d been a day student at the Quaker boarding school in the mission briefly, but it ran on a non-US school year, and closed for “summer vacation” after the New Year’s) I decided that I was going to teach myself to knit.

If I could get a revenge gift, I would engage in revenge knitting.

I would take those two skinny sticks, and that ball of string, and I would make something with them.

Problem: I knew shit-all about knitting.

But back when I was eleven, my friend Cathy W. had taught me to crochet. Cathy lived across the street from me in the Shel-Mar trailer park in New Phila, Ohio.  I met her after my family got back from Alaska, where my parents were MORAVIAN missionaries and dorm parents in the boys dorm of a children’s home. Completely different churches, dogmas, philosophies… Hey… I come by my special kind of crazy honestly, and I think I’ve even managed to tone it down a little.

So by the time I was fifteen, I knew one thing about making fabrics by hand.

You use loops.

For crochet, you use a hook and loops, and you can make sweaters, and slippers, and big blankets, and little hats, and extravagant lace tablecloths — and I have done all of those things.

Back then, though, I’d only had one ball of yarn (the buying of which was a big concession by my mother because we had no money) and one crochet hook, given to me by Cathy, either with or without her mom’s permission.

I crocheted the same ball of yarn into the same square — over, and over, and over. Ripped back, worked on perfecting my stitches, ripped back again. By the time, three years later, that we took off for Central America, I was very very good at that one stitch, (double crochet). Good enough that I was satisfied, and had put the final version of the square and the crochet needle in the drawer, and had forgotten about them.

But… now I had a ball of string and two needles. And there wasn’t a hook on either of them.

I had never seen anyone knit. There were no knitters in my family.

So how exactly did you use those things?

I knew I would be making loops.

So I tried tying a loop at one end of the string, and then winding the string around one needle in a big spiral. Then I tried to poke the other needle into the spiral to pull a loop through, and got… spaghetti.

It all fell apart.

The solution was not a spiral, then.

I considered that I’d had to hold a saddle on the back of a horse with a knot called a double clove hitch, and that these were sturdy knots that would save you from falling off the horse onto your head. Very good, very strong, very important knots.

Bigstock Two half hitches knot nautic 99206672

So I worked a bunch of those onto the needle, made a loop through the first one— and it WORKED.

Pulled the string through the second one… pulled the loop across to the second needle… and… dammit… spaghetti.

But the first loop — half a clove hitch — had worked… so I made a bunch of those, and discovered that yes, indeed, I could pull stitches through a complete row of those loops, and they would not fall apart.

I did that to the end of the row, turned the needle around, and pulled the string through the first loop going the other way. And the next, and the next.

I did that for a little while, working back and forth, and got a definite fabric. I discovered that the direction through which I pulled the string changed the appearance of the fabric.

I then remembered the existence of a lovely wool sweater, left by some previous inhabitant of the room my sister and I shared, shoved down into the bottom drawer of the old wardrobe. It was ratty and moth-eaten, but it had cables and other fancy knitting, so I pulled it out, found a hole where there was a cable, and started unravelling, and I watched how stitches (including cables) were made by unmaking them, and then reversing the process.

I discovered that if I was very careful, I could pull off two stitches of my slippery cotton string, carry them over two stitches still on the needle, and while holding the loose stitches in one hand and squeezing really hard, I could move the two stitches I was crossing over to the other needle, put the two stitches I was pinching in my left hand back on the first needle… put the other two stitches back on the first needle, and then when I knit, I got a CABLE.

It took a number of tries and a lot of whispered swearing, because the string was small and slippery, and the needles were small and slippery, and even the tightest stitches I could make with slick cotton string fell apart at the tiniest provocation…

But after numerous tries, I had the first twist of the first cable that held together and didn’t cause me to rip all the way back to start over because I didn’t know how to pick up dropped stitches that laddered.

So… Hot shit.

One cable down.

Literally unravelling the mysteries of the moth-eaten sweater one stitch at a time, I discovered how to make seed stitch the same way. And vertical ribs.

And after I had knit a front, and guessed at a bind-off — I think I just ran the edge of the string through all the raw loops, then tied a knot down into the side of each piece — I did a matching back, and two sleeves.

And then I sewed the pieces together with what was left of the string.

There were no edgings, ribbing or otherwise. And the entire sweater would have been a bit baggy on a Barbie doll, but not too baggy.

It wasn’t lovely.

It wasn’t professional.

But it was my very first piece of knitting ever. And finished, it looked like a real sweater.

It was cables and texture, taught to me by a moth-eaten sweater, two skinny, beat-up, gold-painted sticks, and a single small ball of red cotton string desperately unsuited to the purpose.

And it was a triumph for me.

I showed it to my mother when it was done. She stared at it. Said, “You made that?”

And I said, “Yep.”

And I grinned.

I didn’t knit another thing until I was twenty, and had a lot of empty hours at night because I was doing a nursing residence at Butner in North Carolina. It seemed like a good idea to knit a sweater for my then-finance. It, too, was a real sweater — this time with ribbing and stripes because I bought a pattern at the same place I bought the yarn, and I figured out how to read it. And the sweater I made him looked good… until he put it on and I discovered it would have fit a moose.

But that’s not the point.


The moment I taught myself how to knit was also the moment I discovered that, no matter what I wanted to do, if I wanted it enough to find a way — I could do it.

My motive for learning how to knit — at the time — was pure revenge. You give me a shitty gift to punish me at Christmas, I take your shitty gift, spit on your punishment, and turn it into something really cool. The hell with you guys.

It was a lousy motive.

But it was a good skill. And teaching myself that gave me the knowledge — years later — that if I wanted to teach myself how to write commercially viable fiction, I could.

I didn’t figure THAT process out in one week. Teaching myself to write well enough to sell took me seven years.

But I did it.

And if you are willing to put in the work, to make the effort not just once but over and over again until you get it right… you, too, can find a way, or make a way, and own the skills you yearn to have.


If you want to write fictionYou. Can. Do. This.

Get your free writing class… How to Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t SUCK!… HERE!

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

The Ohio Series: Novel 1 – Friday snippet (a day early) that might not make the final version

By Holly Lisle

I’m going to note that the urban fantasy series I’m writing operates around the importance of trade.

That it’s an old system, and that it operates across multiple dimensions.

And that my protagonist is a cop, and the guy she’s working with is… difficult to get a handle on.

With that set-up, this is so offbeat and was so unexpected that it might have to come out of the final draft. It might not fit once I’ve done the final worldbuilding. But with the usual caveats: 

This is rough, raw, first draft; it undoubtedly contains errors, and I do NOT make corrections from this draft; this material is copyrighted to me; do not quote or use in reviews…

The set-up is that my protagonist’s ally is explaining why he had to change his identity. Here’s the snippet…

“Building a network up from nothing is a helluva lot of work, though, and let me just say that the rewards offered by this particular world were… not enticing.”

“Prospective bride not pretty enough?”

“You ever see Star Wars?” he asked me.


“She looked a lot like Princess Leia, minus the sticky-bun hairdo. And was a real princess.”

“Then what was the problem?”

“She was a real princess. And a cannibal. She’d had two previous prospective bridegrooms killed and cooked when they failed to live up to her expectations.”

Every once in a while, the words that come out of someone else’s mouth are so utterly ludicrous that it doesn’t even matter if they could be true. Or might be horrible. The shock value of them catches you, and you crack.

I just lost it, right then, right there. Laughed my ass off. Had tears running from my eyes, had to excuse myself to go blow my nose.

When I got back, he was staring at me, an accusatory expression on his handsome face. “That wasn’t a joke.”

“Dude,” I said. “Cannibal princess. I’m sorry, but I keep seeing Princess Leia cooking Han Solo and serving him with cranberry sauce.”

Yeah. It’s definitely out there.

In other updates, the Sweater From Hell required a complete rip back of the sleeve I was starting here.

Too much flipping of the whole sweater while knitting the sleeve in.

So now I’m doing it this way…

Cropped SFH sleeve 451X600

Faster, lighter. Remarkably, however, the 2/2/8 stitch pattern is still just as inconceivably frustrating.

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

Grinding: Diablo 3, Knitting, Writing… LIFE

By Holly Lisle

Problem: Not Enough Noro means I have to use a fill-in yarn

2018 08 14 Noro and Rowan -- supplies chosen

SOLVED: On November 3rd, I finished my Stained Glass Sweater, a project I’d been working on in small pieces since August 18th.

Problem: About two weeks ago (late in the actual season), I discovered that the Diablo 3 season had something I wanted. A Disembodied Hand pet.


SOLVED: Sunday night,I got my Disembodied Hand by finishing the first four challenge levels of the current season of Diablo 3.

Problem: Can I show my readers enough of who the Owner is to actually have them care what happens to him?

Longview 6 The Owners Tale 250X400

SOLVED: Yesterday the comments from my Bug Hunters for The Owner’s Tale, the concluding episode of Tales from the Longviewstarted coming in. And they cared.

And it suddenly occurred to me that:

  • knitting a sweater,
  • playing a Season in Diablo,
  • and writing a novel…

have an astonishing amount in common.

My bet here is that you’re going to think I’m nuts. But watch this…

The Common Ground of Knitting, Diablo 3 Seasons, and Novel Writing

They all require grinding.

Not familiar with the concept of grinding?

When you grind, you have a set series of achievable objectives before you that, if you complete them, will give you a reward.

Grinding always includes easier objectives and tougher objectives, and if you’re smart, you do the easiest stuff first and work your way into the more difficult bits, gaining skills and technical prowess (and better armor and weapons, or tools and techniques) as you go so that you can conquer the bigger battles without getting your ass handed to you too often.

The first objective is always simply this… Figure out exactly and specifically what it is that you want to accomplish.

In Diablo, I wanted to win the pet — the disembodied hand that runs around while you’re playing and picks picks up of all your gold so you don’t have to. I love Diablo’s weird pets, and the idea of that hand made me laugh.

With The Owner’s Tale, my objective was to wrap up the entire series and answer the final mysteries, whilepresenting the Owner and having his story and his life matter to readers.

With the sweater, it was to figure out how to use some gorgeous Noro Taiyo yarn in a colorway that was no longer available, and which I didn’t have enough of to make an entire sweater for myself. On August 18th, I came up with the little swatch below, and liked it enough that I didn’t tear it apart to try something else.

August 18: Interesting, workable sweater concept, with Rowan wool worsted to use to fill out the Noro I didn’t have enough of.

Well-chosen objectives are understandable.

With Diablo, I picked a Demon Hunter (had never played one of those before), and just started playing in the evenings when Matt was playing his stuff. My objective? Finish the Season, earn the Disembodied Hand pet and maybe some of the armor.

With The Owner’s Tale, I identified as my objective that when I’d finished my story, my readers would actually meet the owner — from his own point of view, which I had kept them away from up to this point. And Keyr would show them who he was, why he did what he did, and would wrap of the biggest mystery that has run since Episode 1 — what’s really going on in the Longview? And if I did it right, when they reached the end, they would care what happened to him.

With the sweater, I located a second yarn that went nicely with my bright Noro Taiyo, a nice, slightly flecky Rowan worsted wool that wasn’t quite black, but was almost.

And my test swatch looked like stained glass to me, and reminded me of windows my father built for churches and homes. I thought, yeah, that’ll work. And set my objective as making a sweater for myself kind of like the one I’d made for Becky, only different.

Well-chosen objectives are always recognizable.

When you finish an objective, you have to know you’ve finish it.

Diablo is great for this. The game has little icons that show up on the bottom of the screen, all gilt-edged and shiny, that tell you, Hey, you did SOMETHING good.

Knitting has stitch markers if you’re working with really big pieces. If you’re knitting modularly (in little shapes that you then knit together into bigger shapes), you just count modules.

August 22nd: One Back Panel

2018 08 22 One Back Panel

In writing, you count words and scenes, and you write toward discovering your story’s best ending, which is rarely the first one you think up.

Well-chosen objectives have a clear waypoints.

Diablo 3 is excellent at setting this up for the player. You have a series of four groups of objectives that move you to the first big reward. You’ll end up doing the first groups of stuff by accident—just by playing the game. As you clear each objective, you get a bright red badge beside it, so you can see clearly how many you’ve done, and how many you have yet to do.

You get a nice sense of progression, and you get absorbed in going deeper (occasionally looking things up on the Internet) so you can find and conquer the more obscure challenges and earn the remaining, more difficult progress markers.

With knitting, you’re building pieces of a whole, and you try them on as you knit them to make sure what you’re making fits.

August 24th: Progress on Second Back Panel

2018 08 24 Starting second back and MSU

August 28th: Finished Back (stained class portion only)

2018 08 28 Finished Back SGS

September 14: Final MSU (Making Shit Up) workable idea for front pockets

2018 09 14 Major MSU pocket SGS

MSU — Making Shit Up — is a technique I use in problem-solving for both knitting and writing fiction. This requires a moment of explanation, and I’m going to discuss this from the knitting perspective.

I don’t do pockets often. I’m sure lots of folks have come up with this way of making pockets in a modular sweater, but I didn’t research “How to make pockets.”

Instead, I thought about what I wanted them to look like, and how I wanted them to work, and then I tried different approaches until I came up with this one, in which the opening for the pocket is created by not joining the modules.

September 21st: Knitting in the pocket liner

2018 09 21 Knitting In Pocket Liner SGS

And then by knitting in the pocket liner so nothing is sewn, and so the pocket will be sturdy. I’m sure lots of folks do this — but I get to claim this as my method (what Elizabeth Zimmerman would have called unventing) because even though a ton of other people have probably figured this out on their own, I figured it out on MY own. I invented this process for myself. This is what you do when you like your brain and want to keep it working. You push it to solve complicated problems every day.

As for writing fiction, Making Shit Up is one of my favorite methods for Avoiding Research. If you build the world, build the physics, build the languages, build the history, you don’t have to research the world. At its best, Making Shit Up is figuring out what you want something to do, and how you want it to work, and then experimenting until you get that.

Well-chosen objectives have achievable rewards.

Achievable means “If you do the work, you will get the reward.”

This is where Destiny and Destiny 2 are very bad games, and Diablo 3 is a very good game.

If you do the objectives in Destiny or Destiny 2, RNG (random number generation) decides whether or not you will get the rewards, and absolutely nothing you do can ensure that you will get the thing you want. Ever.

Which is why I finally quit playing Destiny.

I’m willing to grind like hell to get something, but I don’t like to have bait dangled over my head with “Yeah, you did all the stuff, but you still can’t have the thing you wanted.” Destiny is like a shitty boss who says, “Guess what? You didn’t get paid this week. But keep working. Maybe I’ll pay you next week. Or never. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

Screw that. My time matters to me.

With Diablo 3, you know exactly what you’ll get if you do the specific tasks,and when you complete the last of those tasks, you get the stuff.

But you have to be persistent, because there are a LOT of tasks, and you’re starting out with a brand new, unleveled character that you have to take through the whole campaign first before moving on to doing bounties and other higher-level stuff. But if you play a little every evening (and maybe binge a bit on the weekends), you’ll get your goofy pet.

Then you have more tasks you can play through to get more stuff. I’m willing to work really hard for cool stuff, but I do require getting paid for that work. Diablo 3 pays on time and in full.

In knitting, you have to be persistent, because knitting is slow, and finicky, and you have to do a lot of ripping back and trying new things if you don’t use patterns (I never use patterns — I always just make shit up). But if you stick with it, and knit a little every day, you’ll eventually finish your sweater. And then you have something cool that you wanted.

October 17th: It took me seven tries to figure out
a way to do the sleeves that I didn’t hate,
but with this, I finally came up with something I liked.

2018 10 17 First sleeve SGS

October 23: Here you can see the sleeves coming together…2018 10 23 Partial Sleevse Yarn Shortage SGS

With writing, you have to be persistent. It, too, is something big made up of bunches of small parts. Tens or hundreds of thousands of words, dozens to hundreds of scenes, possibly dozens of chapters.

And if you show up regularly and do the work, you’ll create the small pieces that make the bigger parts that eventually finish the whole.

You do “X number of words per day” and you make that a number small enough that you CAN hit it every day you write. You don’t keep raising the number. You can write more on any give day, but your low, achievable number is your success number. So that on SHITTY days (and you will have them), you can still hit the low number, can still have a successful day, and can then go curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee and make Real Life go away for a bit.

Well-chosen objectives have to end with guaranteed success.

You set a goal you can reach, and you work to that goal.

I have my Disembodied Hand, and I get a kick out of watching it skitter around the screen picking up gold off the ground.

I have my oversized, warm, pockety sweater. All the ends are sewn in, the buttons are on, the button band came together perfectly, the Kitchener stitching on the waistband, collar, and cuffs turned out beautifully, and it’s as bright and pretty as I hoped it would be. Now I just need some cold weather so I can wear it.

November 3rd: Finished the Stained Glass Sweater

2018 11 03 Finished outside SGS

With The Owner’s Tale, I finished the story. I finished the revision. I finished the series. I made the owner of the Longview someone understandable and in some ways sympathetic. I wrote the story I wanted and needed to write, and in that, I succeeded.

Everything beyond that is out of my control, so nothing beyond that can be an objective for me.

I cannot make the story sell well. I cannot get it listed on best-seller lists. I cannot make it matter to anyone but myself. But it matters to me.

Well-chosen objectives have to matter to you.

I really wanted that hand. It’s gross, but it’s funny.

I really wanted that sweater. The more I worked on it, the more I could see what it could become if I did it right, and I wanted to wear it, to have that little tribute to the part of my father that I liked and respected, and to have something that was just that bright and cheerful and pretty.

With The Owner’s Tale, I could feel the power of the story building as I discovered the owner’s life before he started rescuing slaves on the Longview. I needed to know more about him, needed to discover why he gave a shit, needed to know why, when he got filthy rich, he didn’t just take his money and make himself a god. And I wrote the story I needed to read.

That’s what you’re looking for when you set objectives.

What you need in your life, step by step, with the end result that your life is better in big or little ways.

You cannot do everything. Cannot have everything.

But if you can identify achievements that matter to you, and can build out the steps that you can take to reach goals you can achieve on your own, and if you’re willing to then grind— to do the work, to show up in your own life and put in the effort and the focus — you can have that.


Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

Two Sticks and Some String, and a Cat: Building Becca’s Noro Sweater

By Holly Lisle

In May, my daughter Becky bought me Noro yarn for Mother’s Day. Gorgeous stuff, pure wool, the kind of yarn where you open the bag, shove your face against the yarn, inhale, and sigh with happiness.

The Bag of NoroBut it had to sit there for a while, because…

Well, LIFE first, and then with yarn, you have to get to know it for a while before you can start to see what it might become. (More on that in a bit.)

But in July, I had an idea of what to do with it. Nothing solid, just “Sweater for Becky.”

So I called her. Said, “Got some questions for you.”

She was wary. (Smart, my kid. Questions from mothers always require caution.)

The conversation went like this.

“Cardigan or Pullover?”

“Cardigan… And I like where this is going.”

“Fitted or oversized?”


“Pockets or no pockets.”


And that was it. I started playing with the yarn, doing some cast-ons and some rip-backs until I considered Becky.

Test squares, I thought.

I was walking through JoAnn Fabrics to pick up a few more knitting markers, and discovered these buttons, which were, I thought, the same colors as the Noro Becky’d gotten me.

Bought them, took them home, and…

They. Were. Perfect. 

The Startlingly Matching Buttons

Not just perfect for the sweater. Perfect for HER. Not the same color, not tiny, not timid.

They were bright and bold and happy.

Meanwhile, the test squares had become some coherent pieces.Pieces

And Sheldon had taken up his position as “Associate Knitter in Charge of String Pouncing.” Note the feigned disinterest.

Sheldon, Knitting Tester

So, anyway, I got the raw body pieces together, and shoved one of the sweaters I’d made for myself inside to make sure I had the armholes and pockets in the right places.

I don’t use patterns, you see. I think up what I want the sweater to look like, I consider the couple of measurements I need to make sure it’ll fit the person I’m making in for, I test what I’m building against my numbers as I knit. It’s an always-interesting exercise in three-dimensional artifact construction, and the way I do it, it takes a little math, and sometimes a sketch on paper (though not this time), and a little twiddling at the beginning when I’m working out the bugs.

Example—getting the left-side squares on the back to slant in the opposite direction from the squares on the right required me to knit from bottom to top rather than top to bottom, from left square to right rather than right square to left, and to use an entirely different cast-on.

Testing Armhole and Pocket Placement

With the main body pieces made and knitted together, I discovered that I was not going to have enough yarn to finish the sweater, however… and I also discovered that Webs was out of that color, and that I couldn’t find any more elsewhere.

So I… er… “shopped the stash,” and found the very first good yarn I’d ever bought. Elspeth Lavold wool-silk, very dark purple, that back when we were living in Georgia, was my step away from Red Heart. Only not, because once I got it, I discovered that I was going to have to buy a swift and a yarn winder before I could use it, and it was sport weight, which I’d never worked with. And by the time I got the yarn winder and the swift and smaller needles, I’d discovered Noro.

So the Elspeth Lavold has been sitting in the stash for, at this point, about thirteen years.

I knitted on the left button placket with doubled Elspeth Lavold, and sewed on the buttons so I’d know where the buttonholes would go and how big they’re need to be when I moved to the other side. 

Left button placket with buttons in place.

And ended up with this.

Buttons done!

At which point my impatient daughter said, “Oooooh! Vest! I want it now.”

Vest. Is. Not. Cardigan.

I made her wait.

Figured out how to use the Elspeth Lavold for detail stuff, and started working out the sleeves.

Growing the Sleeves

Sleeves Grown

And ended with some spiffy cuffs in the Elspeth Lavold that work into the diamond shapes at the top with some fancy ribbed decreases, and finished the collar and the hem, all with Kitchener bind-offs. (Makes it look smoother and of higher quality. And is a lot of fun to do.)

Looks done, right?

Not so much. On the right side facing you, you can see what it looks like with the ends sewn in. EVERYTHING else is what it looks like everywhere but that one little haven of done-ness.

What it looks like on the inside

Meanwhile, I’m getting, “But I want it NooowOwwOwww!” from my impatience oldest child.

Back, before ends sewn in


And at the point where I started sewing in ends, Sheldon, who had managed to restrain himself throughout most of the construction, suddenly lost his mind and became Lunatic Cat of Button-Chewing.The pretense of ignoring temptation.Note the pretense of being uninterested.

Sheldon does a little stretch closer.

Note the little stretch that moves him closer.Sheldon attacks the Demon Button.

Note the button attack. In all fairness, the button did call him a name.

Kill the button

A bad name.

Dog, possibly.

Dog, possibly.

Front ends sewn in

Anyway, I got the ends sewn in on the front…

Back ends sewn in

And the back…

And washed and blocked it…Washed and blocked

And waited three days for it to dry…

Drying with towels

Drying with towels — the Noro dried quickly, but the Elspeth Lavold took forever.

But Still Not Done…



Oversized Cardigan


Sewing in pockets

Which took an age to knit, and another age to sew in while keeping the stitches hidden from the front.

 Sweater, inside out, with pockets sewn in

Sweater, inside out, with pockets sewn in. They’re big, and deep, and they went in AFTER I’d blocked the sweater so they would not cause any puckering.

And NOW it's done.

And now it’s done.With pockets in use

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

Considering Knitting Process and Story Yarns

By Holly Lisle

I have mentioned (from time to time), that I am incapable of sitting still.

Moving fingers prevent me from having to bounce a foot. A moving foot while I read allows me to keep my hands still for a bit.
Part of the bottom of a planned sleeve
Awake, I find myself randomly walking down the hall in the middle of work without any conscious awareness that I needed to move. I just did, so my right brain took over, got me up, and marched me down the hall to the living room.

It figures once I’m there, I’ll do push-ups to quiet down the fidgets for a bit so I can get back to writing. I had a hell of a time sitting still in school. And I am, even at the age of fifty-seven, a remarkably squirmy human being.

Main body finished

So, in order to keep my hands moving and the rest of me still, I have developed a couple of quiet down-time obsessions. I play video games.

And I knit. Generally only for a few hours a night, but I’m pretty quick, and even though I don’t use patterns (and do a lot of ripping back to change designs as I think of something I’ll like better), I still get a lot done.

So here are some pictures of my most recently completed project, and some things that are currently in progress.

One of these days I’ll show you some of the things I finished and kept.

I still had some sleeve ends to sew in after I finished steaming the finished sweater (after ripping back and redesigning the front once, the collar half a dozen times, and the sleeves eleven times.

Sometimes it takes me a long time to get a design right.

And the following are part of a new sweater I’m putting together.

Again, there is no pattern for this. I simply look at what I’m doing and decide to change colors when I see something I like. A fair amount of ripping back goes into this, too.

The technique that makes the curves is working in short rows. For this sweater I’m using the loop and turn method.

Yarn, incidentally, is Noro Silk Garden Light. Devilishly expensive, but I love it. So relatives got me gift cards for my birthday back in October, and I bought two different colorways with it, and am making one sweater from each.

Sweaters start as the idea of what I think I want to make. And they get a first draft, and a revision.

Like my fiction. And I do a LOT of story development and plotting while I knit. The process of knitting is pretty amazing for allowing your to connect story ideas into a threaded narrative.

Maybe that’s why stories are called yarns.

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

Currently on the Needles

By Holly Lisle

  • I have the next to last lesson in How to Write a Series almost finished
  • THREE repubbed novels  now working through a launch under a pseudonym (my first voluntary one)
  • Six novellas I’m reworking, editing, and updating with new covers, formatting, debugging, and other clean-up, including the next NEW story, Longview #4: Gunslinger Moon
  • One Really Spiffy Thing For Writers that’s going out via email tomorrow at ten AM (if you’re a fiction writer and you’re not on my updates list, use the little slider form below to sign up, because this is a one-time EVER thing, and it’s big) — and be sure to click the Segmenting Tag for “writer” when you get that email.


If the words “And a Partridge in a Pear Tree” drifted through your mind… you are not alone. ‘Tis the season, and I’m head down and working really hard.

So I need a breather for the little down time I have. Something to let me wind down.

I think of this as “potato chip knitting.”

Because you just do a little at a time, just like writing a novel. And as long as you keep at it, you see progress. And in my case, I make it up as I go — though the chips can get a bit weird, and go wrong sometimes.

Of course I have pictures. 😀

After a wrong approach, you rip back. I pulled out the entire front panel and neckline.

Finished my FIFTH attempt last night, and it’s a keeper.

The picture of him wrapped in the damn thing while trying to drag it to the floor to have his way with it does not exist. Because my choice was “get the picture” or “save the sweater.”

I saved the sweater. Still have the sleeves and collar to go, plus buttons and I-cord fasteners. And sewing in all those ends. But I have enough of it now that I thought it was worth showing off.

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

Cthulhu LIVES (because someone put food in a pocket)

By Holly Lisle

So, yeah. Cthulhu is alive and well, after being really dead for a while.

And partially it’s my fault, because I should have known better than to skin a Great Old One and turn him into yarn. Or try to do something useful with him. But, hey, you’d think a monster like that would knit up into something both waterproof and warm, right?

But I also blame my older son, Mark, who asked me (three years ago) to knit him a sweater. He was driving a long-haul truck at the time, had put on some weight from the combination of brutal job that prevented exercise and short stops that required pretty much living on fast food, and he said driving through the mountains out west, he spent a lot of time being cold.

I started on the sweater. The two of us had bounced ideas around about what would make a sweater that was both warm, and cool. That would fit him. That would fit his passions and his personality.

And fortunately for me, I also decided to make it a sweater that would be as close to one size fits all as possible. Which dictated the design—primarily 3×3 ribs, which offer both a lot of warmth and a lot of elasticity, the weirdness that … er … crawled out of doing a LOT of ribs, and the outcome. Which was the fact that when he finally had both the time off and a working vehicle he could use to come down and see me, it fit him.

In the interim, you see, he became a FedEx guy, started schlepping between 80 and 140 packages around every day, including ones that weighed a hundred pounds or more… and he lost a lot of weight.

The idea was to make a sweater that looked mostly normal, pretty mundane, but that would have a couple of interesting surprises for the observant.

The sweater was a trip to make.

I did not use a pattern.

Did not swatch. I knit the entire thing top-down in one piece including the button placket, but excluding the pockets, which are sewn on.

I used my own process of biometric knitting, in which you grab any needles you think will make the yarn look nice, any yarn, do ONE biometric measurement, cast on, and knit.

As I knit, I tried it on myself, and made sure that it was bigger. Having not seen my son for years, I had to guess at height, arm length, torso length, shoulder width, adjust for possible weight changes, and hope like hell I got it right, because there is no way to undo a single-piece sweater to make little adjustments.

Ribs. Ribs, I tell you. They are better than spandex or elastic.

I tried three different approaches to the sleeve and pocket tentacles before Necessity, Mother of Invention, suggested an invention that worked really well.

And the kid liked it, too.

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

The DragonScale Sweater is done

By Holly Lisle

Back in September of last year, I posted an in-progress picture of the Dragonscale Sweater.

I finished it Saturday, and gave it to my future sister-in-law, for whom it was originally intended as a Christmas present (hah!) yesterday.

I took pictures before I gave it to her, though. 😀

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

The DragonScale Sweater

By Holly Lisle

I mentioned in the WABWM Weekend Thread that I was knitting a modular sweater as one of my down-time activities. (Modular works. I can knit one diamond in about ten minutes, and tie off. Which means I cannot possibly lose my place.)

Promised I’d put up a picture of the sweater.

Here it is. It’s a WIP—missing collar, sleeves, and half of the bottom rows. But even in WIP form, it’s still interesting to look at. I like the 3-dimensional aspect of the scales.

ADDED LATER: I should mention that I designed and knit this top-down and in the round, so in this picture, the majority of the sweater is done.

Contents © Holly Lisle. https://hollylisle.com All Rights Reserved

Writing Projects Gone Weird: or, Saturday, I Knit A Cat

By Holly Lisle

The migraines and vertigo are back with a vengeance, and I’m stuck in horizontal mode (laptop propped on lap and lying down as I write this, in fact).

So Saturday, I dragged out some cotton string (a very nice German variegated yarn), and needles, and did one of the few things that doesn’t make me feel worse when this gets as bad as it is right now.

I knitted.

I’m doing this odd secret project on my day off—a writing project so weird when I first explained why I was knitting sweaters for balls of yarn, my husband got this look in his eyes that asked “do I commit her, or grab the kid and run for the hills?”

And this project calls for a cat.

A tiny, agile, clever cat.

So I got out light-gauge florist wire and narrow green florist tape and built an armature. And then I knit around the armature, ripping back when anything happened that didn’t look like a cat, filling with yarn stuffing as I went.

No pattern, no picture, no guidelines—I remembered my various cats over the years and worked from that. It took me about ten hours over the course of the day to finish him.

When I was done, I showed him to my husband and son, who had seen me knitting around green armature all day, and who hadn’t seen anything particularly catlike in the blob I was making. Both of them were a little creeped out by how much of a cat he became when I started posing him.

I was a bit, too. I hadn’t expected scrap yarn and wire to turn out quite so well—and now that I see him, I’m getting a feel for his character and the role he’s going to play in my secret project.

So what’s this project? Well, it’s fiction, but it’s about writers and writing. And KnitCat is a good representative for what I’m doing. Beyond that, I’m not ready to say anything, except this project will be available for free—it’s my playtime—and should be a nice complement to other things I’ve created to help writers.

As for other things, even though I’m currently bedridden (well, couch-ridden) I did manage to get work done on both TalysMana and the HTTS Walkthrough. I’m doing the plot outline for The Emerald Sun.

And I’m hoping I’ll at least be able to sit up at some point this week, so that I’ll be able to do the Hotseat interview for the Walkthrough.

Anyway… have you ever done anything as weird as knitting a cat to get to the heart of a story?

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