It’s All About the Process

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I love learning how to do stuff. When I was a kid I had weaving lessons the way that my peers had piano or violin lessons. I taught myself to sew when I was a teenager. Taught myself to knit. And when I see a recipe for something I’ve never made — particularly if it’s a fairly basic thing (like cheese) or a really complex thing (baklava! beef Wellington!) my thumbs start twitching. It’s not that I need home made cheese — I’m pretty much the only cheese eater in my house — but the urge to know how to do it is nearly overwhelming.

This is the reason I have found myself doing things as foolish as refinishing my own hardwood floors or stripping wall paper: it’s not that I’m an insane DIY-er; I’m learning the process (also learning that I never want to do it again). By the same token, I’ve taken stage combat and fencing classes (never real martial arts, mind you, but I can use a quarterstaff, a rapier, a broadsword, or pretend to beat you to a pulp) so I’d know. And don’t get me started on assembling Ikea furniture.  It’s like crack: look! This goes there! Cool!

What licenses me to do these things? Being a writer. A few months ago I was talking to a group of Girl Scouts about my career, and someone asked me what the best part of being a writer was. I don’t know what the girls were expecting, but when I said “research!” they looked as if I’d said “spinach!” But other than being a scientist or a beta tester, I know of no other profession that encourages — requires — that I find out how things work.  That can mean plumbing the depths of biology or astronomy, or reading (as I currently am) about women’s legal status in medieval Italy. It can mean reading, or it can mean, for me, getting out a hammer and nails and building a chair, just to see if I can, and so I’ll know the smell and the noises and the feel of wood under my hands.

In the end, writing is all about the process too. With each project, book or story, I find out different things about how I write and what I need.  Getting to learn new processes is just an extra! added! bonus!

Madeleine Robins’s latest story, “Writ of Exception,” will be published on Valentine’s Day in Lace and Blade 2 from Norilana Books.

Visit Madeleine Robins’s Bookshelf at Book View Cafe.

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About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books

Comments

It’s All About the Process — 10 Comments

  1. Great post! 🙂

    I just want to make a small tweak of correction, there is no such thing as “Norilana PRESS” — It’s Books, folks. Norilana Books. Thank you! 🙂

  2. Corrected & linked, Vera, thanks for the heads-up. If you let me know a direct link to the book’s page I’ll add it, or a Powell’s link if you let me know the ISBN-13.

    Vonda

  3. It’s all the process!

    I really enjoyed Madeleine’s post, and have had similar experiences in getting the opportunity to learn things when writing a story. (For Moon & Sun I had to learn something new for damnear every paragraph, and I couldn’t write the next paragraph till I found out the necessary information for the current one, because it made a difference in the way the story went.)

    Similarly, being a novelist gives one license to ask nosy questions, and it’s pretty neat how folks with unusual professions enjoy being asked about what they do.

    Vonda

  4. I have found that there is nothing people will not confide to you, if only you announce that you are writing a book and are doing research. What was it like for you, to mainline heroin? Your incontinence issues, could you give me a blow-by-blow? When you were convicted of fraud and went to jail to do ten years, how did that work out? It is just amazing.

  5. I had to learn something new for damnear every paragraph, and I couldn’t write the next paragraph till I found out the necessary information for the current one, because it made a difference in the way the story went.)

    It’s comforting to hear that, because that’s what’s happening with me now. Every damned time I turn around I need to know something else. Sometimes I just type in XX because it’s something I can go back and fill in later (what sort of herb did the Evil Doctor put into his potion? Ah, henbane, fine). Other times I leave the story for a minute and return five hours later, bloodied and battered, with the bit of data I need. Or not, as sometimes happens.

  6. I have found that there is nothing people will not confide to you, if only you announce that you are writing a book and are doing research.

    Cor lumme, yes. I had an attorney give me almost two hours of highly billable time once because I asked him what the procedure was for getting on to Rikers’ Island. One question led to another, and he was so happy that someone a) wanted to get it right (apparently Law and Order plays fast and loose with many things) and b) would let him talk about his job!