Friday, April 6, 2012

Guest Blog: "When Research Becomes Procrastination" by Rebeca Schiller

Hi, my name is Rebeca. I am a research addict. Rick's note: The first sign to recovery--knowing who and what you are.

There I said it. Now you all know my dirty secret. I am cursed with this nagging fear that whatever I write that deals with history, politics, the arts, science needs to be backed by excessive research that would shame a doctoral candidate. So what’s the big deal? That’s a sign of being thorough, you might comment.

Well, yeah, but sometimes spending too much time surfing the interwebs, sifting through archives, collecting and reading too many books, and conducting endless interviews spells out one thing … PROCRASTINATION.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I believe that writers are the masters of procrastination. We come up with writing prompts to motivate us; write our daily pages so that writing becomes an ingrained habit; blog to share our wisdom with other writers; and obsessively shower (or vacuum, or take our dogs out on mile walks), claiming that’s where we get our best ideas. But when it all comes down to that opus that you’re supposedly outlining, pantsing, revising, or starting from scratch (take your pick), the truth is that you’re not getting very far in becoming a published writer because you’re not writing.

I won’t venture into the whole magillah on the psychology of procrastination (I’d have to research that first), but I will share my research neurosis.

Years ago, before I attempted to write fiction, I read a novel that centered on the Spanish Civil War. The author had written something in Spanish, which was grammatically incorrect. As a fluent Castilian speaker that put me off immediately and then I discovered that his history was also off. This wasn’t artistic license it was plain wrong. I vowed that if I decided to tackle fiction and if it had any sort of historical context to it, I would make sure that what I wrote was accurate.

Julius was born almost six years ago during NANOWRIMO. I finished the first draft in those 30 days. I was proud that I pulled this feat off and that I had it in me to write daily. My arrogant ego said if I could write a novel in 30 days then I could turn a perfectly polished manuscript in 12 months and start querying agents. And now I can comfortably say this in hindsight: Ha!

My first draft was bare bones in the research department and I knew that I had to layer it more. After all, I was writing about a woman’s preoccupation with the Spanish Civil War, The Rosenbergs, Alvah Bessie, the Blacklist mixed in with contemporary politics.

Those 12 months that I had given myself to write, polish and find an agent became the year that my mania for research went out of control. I had no free surface space in my apartment. Stacks of books were next to the couch, the bed, piled high on all tables, every space on bookshelves was crowded with either books or files. My narrow home office was turned into a storage room filled with boxes of books, and even the two large dog wire crates became book receptacles.

Okay, but what about the writing? I wrote—well, I revised and after each revision I had another question that needed more research and suddenly it’s three years later and I’m nowhere near to typing “The End.”

Now almost six years after the fact, Ihave admitted that I have a problem, but there is one benefit to my excessive enthusiasm for research—I have all the necessary information to finish the story. Like my attempt at quitting sugar cold turkey it’s time to quit researching, use all that knowledge and finish the damn book, but first let me clear my writing space. 

Rebeca Schiller is the online editor of HAND/EYE Magazine. She does write daily whether it’s for the magazine, her blog or her daily pages, but what she really needs to do is finish writing Julius.


Debi O'Neille said...

Great article, Rebeca. I should heed your advice, but first I have to take my dog for a mile-long walk.

Guilie said...

Oh, I hear you. Research is fantastic and I love doing it (I did, after all, study Art History), but it's so easy to segue from it being a supporting factor in your writing to making it the goal in itself... And that, indeed, is procrastination. Don't worry--we're all guilty of too-much-research syndrome, in one way or another :)

Rick Bylina said...

Despite the procrastination affect from too much research, research is important. In ONE PROMISE TOO MANY, I had two lines about a body being found after being somewhere for many months. Those two lines amounted to about forty hours of research with experts to nail down the correct science. It's real; it's gross; it's accurate. And that is the important thing with proper research. Of course, right now I'm procrastinating when I should be writing. :-) Write on!

K.W. McCabe said...

Sending good-luck-vibes your way Rebecca! Finish that book!

Bob Sanchez said...

Ack. I wrote a longish comment that just disappeared. Anyway, Rebeca, good post. I definitely can relate to procrastination.