Monday, January 15, 2007

Research: A love/hate thing

Posted by Lisa

When I think of a writer, I'm a romantic. A writer lives in her old Vermont farmhouse where floor boards lie crooked and the windows are always drafty. An urban writer lives in a studio apartment above a popular restaurant where the business deals more than food. A writer is a loner. Quirky. The story builds in her imagination until the lives of her characters are more real to her than her own life. Plot lines are cob webs that weave through her brain. A story comes together in the writer's mind until it pours onto the page. My romantic writer doesn't stop to do, gulp, research.

I had to do research for my first novel, and it was a chore. I had to learn about tides and beach topography. I studied the life cycle and mating habits of plovers. I interviewed a Coast Guard to understand search and rescue. I did it because I had to. It wasn't was as fun as writing.

For the novel I'm currently working on, I did research as well. I wanted to understand the people who built a railroad along the mountain range where my protagonist lives. Suddenly research turned, well, as fun as writing. I discovered something. Blogs aren't new. They started with letters. A series of letters is a blog. I found a website with pictures and letters from a year a reverend spent at a camp of men building the railroad. The details he documents helped me. I got carried away with reading his story. I think I forgot about writing for a day or two.

Now, for me, the danger is either spending not enough time on research, or getting carried away with research to the point that it takes time away from writing. Overall, the internet is invaluable. Interviews? Very important, no doubt. A necessary evil. Not my idea of what a writer does, but something that has to be done.

But when it comes down to it, I still want to live in that Vermont farmhouse, pound away on a keyboard, and then go snowboarding.

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