My name is Olivia and I hate research.
This is a problem because as a writer you have to do some research (at least every now and then).
I really wish that wasn’t the case and I avoid having to research like the plague. In fact this is the reason I ruled out writing historical novels, medical dramas and police procedurals.
I’ve had to do a fair bit of research back at university and most of it consisted of ordering the right books at the library before digging through hundreds of pages of uninteresting material to find that one necessary bit of information.
I hated it. I would procrastinate researching my papers just as much as I’d procrastinate the actual writing of it. In fact freaking out, because the library didn’t have the book I needed for a 20 page paper due three days later, was a frequent occurrence.
These days Google (or Bing if you like) does most of the looking up for you, but I’m still not a fan. Now you don’t just have to research, now you also have to make sure the date of the information is current and the information itself is accurate, not slanted or misleading.
Considering that, I think I preferred walking to the library.
For many writers research is just another way to procrastinate. Luckily that can’t happen to me. I seldom fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia and end up hopping from article to article.
If I could just make it all up, I would. But you never know which detail adds authenticity to a scene and I really don’t want my character dying of a disease that is 100% survivable.
How do I get around that and do the much dreaded research, you ask? I add square brackets [ ] behind sentences/paragraphs that I need additional information for. Either with a short comment explaining the question to my future self or simply with a question mark. Whenever I’m editing I look up the information I need for those square brackets and fill them in before I start rewriting.
Jake clutched his stomach. The knife was buried deep [where exactly does a knife have to enter the body to pierce a kidney?] and blood was seeping through his fingers. Damn, he’d need a doctor before boarding the train. There was no way he was surviving [length of train ride from NYC to LA in hours?] hours until his arrival in LA. Not with this wound.
But, I kept wondering, is that really enough?
John Grisham said in an interview:
“When I write fiction, it takes a lot to get me out of the seat to check anything. I hate to stop the writing to go check a fact, to go find a city, to go to a hotel – I’ll just make stuff up.”
For all I knew, all bestselling authors were big on research who wouldn’t put letter to page without first having learned every last tidbit of information about a particular subject or place. Maybe that’s why they’re successful authors.
You have no idea how happy I was to read John Grisham’s words. It’s okay for me to feel the way I feel about doing research, and it’s okay for me to work it into my process however I see fit.
Thank you, Mr. Grisham. Thank you.
How do you feel about research? Do you enjoy going down the rabbit hole? Or do you avoid it? Let me know in the comments.
The Washington Post article from which I took the Grisham quote can be found here.
See you next week,