Thursday, January 18, 2007

Student Teacher

Posted by Lynne

If I had all the time and money in the world, I would be a perpetual student. I've always loved big thick textbooks, mechanical pencils, and there's nothing like writing the date on that first page of a new notebook. The problem is, like many writers, I don't have lots of extra time and money to pursue an additional degree; I need my day job. I envy anyone enrolled in a program of advanced study, especially an MFA program, it just isn't practical given my life right now.

Yet over the last two years, since I started writing fiction, I've learned an important secret. I can be a perpetual student of both craft and subject detail, when I submerge myself in research for my writing. The best part is there are no set amount of credits or courses to take for a particular degree. I get to design my own curriculum.

In writing my first novel, I learned what it takes to be the lead detective connected with an unsolved crime, and I didn't need a degree in criminal justice. I learned how to be a contributing member of a loss support group, yet I didn't need to pursue a degree in social work, or even sit in one of those uncomfortable metal folding chairs.

I love doing research not just because I can choose what I will study, but because if I'm a very good student, later I get to be the teacher. If I've really done my homework--reading, interviewing, studying and finally writing--I get to teach my readers something they didn't know or, at the very least, remind them of something they may have forgotten.

Just one month ago, I started fleshing out the details of my new novel, and I am having a ball. I'm learning to sew, though not once have I pricked my finger with a sharp needle. I'm listening to the big band music of the fifties, while perusing old fashion and movie star magazines. I'm studying the lives of foreign correspondents during the sixties and seventies.

When I'm done with my research, and put the most salient and sensory of details down on the page, if I've studied well, maybe you'll be able to tell the difference between peau de soir and taffeta. You might be able to hear the reedy sound of Benny Goodman's clarinet or three part harmony sung by sixties lounge singers, The Jack D'Johns. To me, writing research provides the best of all possible worlds; I get to be the student and the teacher.

4 comments:

Kristy said...

There is no question that research is one of my favorite parts of writing. In fact, with my last book I actually forgot I was writing a book because I got so entranced researching the connections between math, music, and creativity. Seriously, it took months out of my actual writing time, and I adored every bit of it.

My WIP is about religion and now I have a great stack of library books that I can't wait to delve into to learn about various religious ceremonies and beliefs.

If only I'd been this enthralled with learning while in school!

Lynne Griffin said...

It is wonderful to get lost in the details, isn't it? Your books sound very engaging; I have a sense you researched well. If only schools and teachers would always engage childrens' heads, hearts and hands--they'd all love research as much as you and I do.

Patry Francis said...

Amy! Congrats on landing your dream agent! What an amazing week for you.

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For my part every person must go through this.