This morning I received the following note from Jordan, a reader of this blog. I’d just had a fruitful few hours writing, but at least half of that time was, in fact, rummaging around the Net, searching for the perfect, telling detail. (More on my delicious findings in another post.) All fiction?and especially historical fiction, I suspect?is a symbiotic push-and-pull between research and creation. Jordan expresses this dynamic well. (Thank you, Jordan!)
I was just watching a C-SPAN “Booknotes” segment on YouTube (are Canadians familiar with C-SPAN?) in which all of the panelists were nonfiction writers of various sorts ? journalists, historians, memoirists, etc. In spite of their not being novelists, they ALL agreed, to a person, that research is the most enjoyable aspect of their work, and that writing is the hardest.
I used to have a regular newspaper job myself, and, despite being known as a good wordsmith, I completely agree with both you, Sandra, and the C-SPAN panelists: It was always a cinch to pick up the phone and talk to sources, gather quotes, take notes, research stuff online, etc., but a pain in the butt to finally stare at a blank computer screen and start producing sentences.
Sometimes I think the extra thoroughness I put into my interviews was just procrastination, so that the writing part of my job could be forstalled for another half-hour or so!
Another problem, of course, is that writing often produces more questions about your subject than you had during the “official” research phase of the project. The great American historian David McCullough (“Truman,” “John Adams”) addresses this problem rather ingeniously by actually starting to write his books very shortly into the research process, in spite of his relative ignorance at that stage, knowing that all of his best and most insightful questions, not to mention the ones most germane to his narrative, will come to him only after he begins creating said narrative.
Anyway, the point is, the majority of writers can relate to what you’re
[Sidenote: Jordan wrote to me directly because he was unable to post his note in “Comments.” Is anyone else having this difficulty? If so, email me: sgulland AT sandragulland.com. I’ve just converted this site to WordPress, and I’m still working out the bug.]