Writing can consume a person’s life. You are constantly thinking about writing even when you aren’t actually sitting in front of the computer or have a pen in hand. It is both a blessing and a curse to the craft to never separate yourself from your work.
On one hand, you will never get away because your characters will always find a way into your daily life and demand to be written. This can be a good thing, though. You are always thinking of new stories and your imagination is never broken from the world you are creating.
Most people don’t understand the struggle a writer has to overcome to separate their train of thought from the unconscious need to write. What people also forget is how difficult it may be to write at all.
They tell us, write what you know. Well, the downside to that is we don’t know a whole lot about what we want to write. So, a majority of our time isn’t necessarily spent writing, but searching for the knowledge to write.
For example, the story “Somewhere” located in the fiction category of this blog has many familiar subjects to everyone. It is most likely speculative fiction with only a few elements of the supernatural. It’s about a girl who suffers something terrible and must reflect on her life to return it to normal. I could list all of the things I didn’t know before writing the story, but that would take too long. Instead, I will tell you the things I did know before and during the writing process.
Writing from a young female out of college and living on her own. That’s it? That’s all I know at this point. What proceeds is hours of research that goes into a very small amount of work. The setting of the story is Wilmington, NC. Now I have never been to Wilmington, much less south of the Mason Dixon line for more than a few hours on a train ride. So, personal experience of the place is automatically out. I searched for the place my character would live on Craigslist, used Google Maps to tell me where she would work, and looked at pictures to show me what the town looked like. You’d think this was for a chapter in a novel, but all of this information is just for me to know what it is like to live there. These hours of research culminated in maybe two paragraphs of writing.
Most recently, I was doing research for a park my character was going to visit for a jog. It took maybe three hours to find the park on Google Maps, look at blogs, and photo albums of people who have been there. All of this work for an image in my mind and a sentence about the trees in the park.
For anyone who doesn’t write fiction, this may come as a shock to find out how much work goes into so little of a product. However, the end result is realistic and satisfying. To some, the little details are looked over in a story. To the writer, though, the little details are like hand painted designs on a homemade ornament from Peru. The time and dedication the painter took to get every detail in there creates a better product.
Thus, writers are first and foremost storytellers, but our second, more important role is the researcher. Constantly reading and learning about the subject we are going to write. Because as much as our mentors suggest to write what we know. When you start to write, you realize you know very little about the subject. You must catch up on all of the knowledge you are missing just to write the story bouncing around in your head.
I truly understood my role as a researcher during my senior year of my undergraduate education. I received an award for the work I had done on a final paper. I spent months doing research spanning hundreds of pages in sources just to understand the subject I thought I knew. The money from the award has been long spent, but the importance of the recognition remains. A good writer uses the research as if it has been known all along. The task writers face, in addition to coming up with a creative new story, is to learn about every conceivable subject surrounding the story and know it like they know their own names.
So, the next time you open a book, think about the work that author had to do to come up with details spanning 10 different subjects. He/she may have known nothing about these subjects before the book was written and put hours of tiring research to give you the story in your hand (especially science fiction/historical fiction-they do tons more research).