Sunday, March 17, 2013

The perils of non-fiction...

For some reason, I find that non-fiction is harder to write about than fiction.

At this point in my writing life, it's strange and exciting to be doing something entirely new. To slake my appetite for words with some new flavor and test my tools on new materials.

My apologies for not posting more often. If you are following my non-fiction project blog "School of the Renaissance Artisan" you'll know that I haven't died or gotten lost in the woods. It's just that I haven't as much experience writing nonfiction, so I don't feel authoritative enough to really give good tips or even talk about it much.

For one thing, the "characters" I'm writing about are real rather than figments of my imagination, so I must be more careful with them. And they certainly won't do as I tell them or go where I want them to go at the whim of making a good story. And I can't just write them out of the narrative if they're being recalcitrant.

I can see why memoirists have been so notoriously prone to making stuff up.

And then there's the constant distraction of my drug-of-choice: research.

I've written before, at length, about the dangers of too much research. Often it becomes an excuse for procrastinating the beginning of a project. One more book and I'll be ready. I must constantly fight the impulse to get so lost in the minutia of a project that I never actually get around to beginning it.

The internet is especially good at sucking me down the research rabbit hole, yet this project would be next to impossible without it. Though I honestly profess to a Luddite streak a mile wide and a preference for the thousands of physical printed books on the shelves around me, without my e-Reader and computer, I would not have access to many of the reserves of the great libraries of the world. The Internet Archive alone is a font of knowledge that just keeps flowing and refilling like the oil can in the Hanukkah story. The historical works of Roubo and Moxon would be out of reach without a lengthy trip to the libraries that still hold copies behind glass and subsequent negotiations with their caretakers for access.

Without this font of distraction that is the internet, I would not have access to the consistently generous of masters of their crafts Chris Schwartz and Peter Follansbee; I would never have met virtually with historical cordwainer Francis Classe; nor would I have had the unpublished pin research of Rachel Jardine drop unannounced into my email inbox.  The curator emeritus of the Museum of London's medieval collections would likely never have sent me a parcel of research books as he did electronically at the outset of this project.

Technology is, as ever, both angel and demon, giving with one hand as it takes with the other.

As strange as it sounds, the hardest part of this project has been to remember to write about it. As dangerous a drug as research can be, more perilous by far is the lure of Making Neat Things. And I did not anticipate the high I get from discussing Making Neat Things with other makers online and in person. It's akin to the feeling of stepping from the workaday world into a writer's conference and for the first time finding yourself surrounded by hundreds of people who live the best parts of their lives internally. The conversations are different, the kinship you feel with almost everyone you encounted is intoxicating... and if you're not careful you'll spend so much time talking you forget to do.

As I and other writers have often said: writers aren't writers unless they write something. The same can be said of makers and any other of hundreds of trades such as these.

So I have been making a concerted effort to do more than I talk, which is sort of against the blogging aesthetic. Hence my lengthy absences for which I apologize.

Now if you will kindly excuse me, the sun is out and I've some doing to do.

~ Scott

The School of the Renaissance Artisan is a yearlong project to unlock the histories of the renaissance craft guilds and reunite the author with his craftsmen heritage. One man, 54 Livery Companies, 111 trades, 52 weeks. Join the fun at