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!
Visit Madeleine Robins’s Bookshelf at Book View Cafe.