Today’s post is slightly odd. Is there any other kind?
Let’s talk about following directions. I have been known to do so, very occasionally (stop laughing, you in the back!). But I also tend to try to ‘improve’ projects. Even when I don’t know what I’m doing. I get started on the project- usually related to one of my hobbies- and get about two steps in before I start wondering, “What if I did it that way instead of this way?”
None of my hobbies are safe from this tendency. It’s a long-standing habit because I never seem to have exactly the right materials or tools for the project. So I have to improvise- substitute out one type of bracket for another in the raised beds, use bacon instead of ham in that quiche, shorten the sleeves on a garment because I don’t have enough of that type of fabric, et cetera. Then I found myself improvising even when I didn’t have to. Or when I shouldn’t. Because I don’t have any concept of learning a subject from the ground up; I just wing it, and when you don’t have the basic skills, winging it has a high chance of failure.
Like everything, there are trade-offs to this approach. Improv skills are usually a good thing, and you have to know something about the properties of both the substituted item/tool/procedure and the substitute, and compensate for their differences (or you end up with a product you didn’t expect, which can also be a good thing, though my husband would disagree). You end up with a greater knowledge of both items, and can put that to use the next time you do a similar project.
On the other hand, improving a project can become a full-on disaster. In my case, injuries aren’t common because I work at a pace that allows me to see them coming and stop before the train wrecks, but I’ve abandoned projects once they got too far off track, spent more money than I needed to, and been tempted to bang my head against the wall until my brains fell out because I was so annoyed (haven’t actually done that last one yet).
Let’s take the sewing project I attempted before the current one. It was a simple little jacket, and I even had a pattern to follow. If you’ve ever worked with me, you know how strange and rare that is. I actually considered drafting my own pattern before sanity prevailed (for once!) and I bought a professionally-drafted pattern.
But of course, I couldn’t just follow the pattern. I started trying to adjust the fit- I’m shaped a little oddly according to most patterns, so this wasn’t as ridiculous as it sounds- and didn’t really like the sleeves, so I started wondering if I could make a vest instead of a jacket, and which I’d be more likely to wear.
It got weirder from there, and I got more frustrated because my sewing skills are beginner-level at baseline. I eventually set it aside, to be completed later. I did one thing right, though; I made a mock-up out of scrap fabric, so I’m reasonably sure the fit is correct.
Thinking over what I did right and wrong led to some conclusions about my approach, namely that it’s unscientific. Proper science requires a plan and- horror of horrors!- following said plan. Except for the one variable you’re testing, which really should be listed in the plan. If you have more than one variable, how do you know which variable affected the result?
Sometimes, there’s no time for science. You just have to wing it. But I’m going to attempt to eliminate a few variables from my next projects, and see what happens. Who knows? My skills might even improve, because I’ll be focused on what I’m doing rather than on what I could be doing.
So far, moderate success. I managed to cut out all the pieces for the current sewing project, instead of eliminating the sleeves- what is it about sleeves? I haven’t started sewing yet, so there’ll be many opportunities to fall off the science wagon.
This little saga has some parallels with writing- plotting vs. pantsing- but it’s mostly a ramble through my thought process. Maybe someone will read it and learn from my mistakes before they make their own.