Are you interested in learning about other writers’ methods and madness? I am. I enjoy perusing your blogs to see what gets your fingers tapping and to find out what holds you back. One lament I come across frequently: Making excuses not to write.
It seems many writers will tackle all kinds of peripheral activities, like making character bios and outlines and backstories, in order to feel they are indeed working on their novels without actually working on their novels. Others will continuously read books and interview people and watch travel documentaries… while page one still remains a blank sheet.
When it comes to writing fiction, my hang-up is the reverse: I have no patience for research. I just want to get writing, yesterday if possible. Why pore over maps of Connecticut, read books on Victorian home-construction methods, and investigate the Wankel rotary engine when I all I have to do is sit down, open MS Word, and send my heroine on her merry way into the basement of a creaking old mansion so she can discover that mysterious trap door?
[I don’t know how the Wankel rotary engine fits into that scenario, but I’ll figure it out]
When I write an arts-and-entertainment piece somewhere, of course I will do the research to get names, events, and dates correct. And, like all of you, I enjoying learning new things. For real, I‘m all over non-fiction books like a dung beetle. I read titles on critical thinking, popular science, psychology, art, writing, film study, you name it. Hell, I probably have a book on Victorian home construction lying around my apartment somewhere. But if I have to read it, I won’t want to.
The reason my stories take place in fictional cities: I can’t get geographical details wrong when I make the place up, can I? As long as I don’t put the slaughterhouse on Gilligan Street in chapter one but change it to Skipper Avenue in chapter three, I’m good.
Inventing towns is easy, though. What about smaller spaces? I’ve never been inside a submarine, so I risk losing my reader if I refer to the cockpit or the windshield wipers. I’ll set that story on a jet instead (and be sure omit the periscope sequence).
Still an acceptable workaround, but I’m starting to limit myself when it comes to settings, both macro and micro. A bigger problem is how to place characters into these settings. I could make my main character a cop, as long as I stay away from procedural details, but then he may seem like a Law and Order reject. A nurse is ok, since my sister is an RN and I can ask her questions. But what about coroners and surgeons, two common character types in commercial fiction? I’ve seen them on TV, but so has my reader. How about an antique collector? A dog breeder? I’ll just be making shit up.
My distaste for research allows me to use the excuse that I’m writing what I know. I set a lot of my stories in rock clubs and bars and populate them with musicians and bartenders, since I’ve lived that. Or I’ll have teenagers messing around in the woods and sneaking into places they shouldn’t, because I’ve lived that too.
I really gotta start that novel soon. I’ve had this cool idea for a while, and I’d begin tonight if I could. But I can’t avoid it: This one needs heavy research. It’s high-concept sci-fi/horror that will fall apart like a Wankel rotary engine with the screws missing if I pull the science out of my butt.
You’ll be proud (or, perhaps, indifferent) to learn that I already burned through three books from my research list. Of course, if I had taken notes, I probably wouldn’t have to read them again. Damn. I knew it seemed too easy!
Worse, I’m also staring at an immediate future of digging through some pretty dry (and sometime expensive to procure) academic material. But I’ve got to get over this hump, because I am not getting any younger, and you can’t write a bestseller until you write it.
So what’s your pain as a writer? Getting started or getting started right?