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.


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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