Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Write Now, Research Later

During the first draft, research means asterisks.

First drafts are for moving fast. If I were to spend the five minutes it might take to click over to Google to look up how, exactly, one would go about cutting a brake line, it wouldn't end up taking five minutes. It would be an hour, at least, because once I'm online, I'm almost powerless. I need to check email, just in case someone needs me to do something. Then if I find out something really funny about cutting brake lines (because nothing says humor like coasting brakeless down a hill at seventy), I need to Twitter it. Then I need to click over to my Google Reader and see if any friends have updated their blogs, and then I wonder if I should update mine.

Of course, I was actually just supposed to be doing a bit of research. While I was writing.

Wait, writing?

Oh, yeah. That's what I was doing.

So instead, I write, "Nadine reached under the * and cut the *, using the * to * the *." (It's a breathlessly gorgeous piece of prose, isn't it?) Then I get to the meat of scene, the dialogue, the action, the heart of it. Later, when I'm revising, that's when I can take the time to go to the auto shop and find out how to really do it, and I'll use those details where I need them.

When I wrote How To Knit A Love Song, I had a passing acquaintance with a sheep ranch, having come from a family of New Zealand sheep farmers, but it had been a few years since I'd been to one. So every time my rancher needed something to do, I just had him go check a fence line. He leaned on lots of fence poles and I threw in a lot of asterisks.

When I was deep in revisions, I went out to a local sheep ranch and talked to the owner. Charlie Foscalina scratched his chin when I asked about chores, and he said, "Well, you kinda got that right. Always a lot of fence needs fixin'."

So I don't worry about the research, not at first. That comes later. I'm not writing historicals, and I don't have to worry about intricate timelines. An asterisk will do in the first draft, and it keeps me writing. And later, I'll learn how to cut that brake line.

4 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh lordy lordy lordy, do i know about this. for me it's the dreaded xxx. I got a call from my agent after i turned in book two and she was laughing her ass off because she's from the frozen north herself, and I had a scene where a character was standing over a hole cut into a frozen pond, fishing for xxx...

Juliet Blackwell said...

I'm with both of you. It took me a while to learn the secret--never break into writing by going on-line to research! It'll take ages to get back.
Oh, and let me know when you find out how to cut a brake line, 'kay?

Dana Fredsti said...

Oh man, I am really trying to use the asterisk or a dreaded xxx rather than get sucked into research during first drafts, but it is SO hard. I hate having that unanswered question, the blank space...something I have to go back and take care of later... but I agree it's the best way to do it!

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