One of the hazards of conducting research for writing a piece of fiction is becoming so intrigued by the subject of the research that the writing doesn’t get done. I know this because I’ve been told it happens and, unfortunately, I’ve had first-hand experience.

My latest venture into the bowels of the rabbit-warren-from-which-there-is-no-escape took place this morning, when I looked into the structure higher education in Norway in connection with a piece I started writing a while ago.  Two hours in, after learning far more than I would ever want or need to use in my writing, I realized I had become ensnared by a topic with only tangential relevance to my story.

The story for which I was conducting my due diligence research (basically, fact-checking to ensure that my writing would, in general, reflect the real world of advanced degrees awarded in Norwegian universities), does not require any knowledge of the European Higher Education Area, the Bologna Convention, the Budapest-Vienna Declaration of March 2010, the Lisbon Recognition Convention, nor the Magna Charta Universitatum. Yet I spent my time lavishly this morning on cursory learning about topics irrelevant to what I am writing.

Despite my auto-distractive behavior, though, I learned enough bits and pieces about Norwegian higher education to merit making notes about material that might fit well into what I write if I should decide to bend the plot a bit. More likely, though, I will look back at my notes a few months or a few years hence and will curse myself for being so easily distracted from writing in favor of something far more appealing in that moment when I should have focused on my task at hand.

Someone—and probably many someones—suggested to me that it’s better to write and write and write, then return to research to enable one to “clean up” what one has written. I can’t seem to do it that way. I have to know more about what I’m writing, while I’m writing. Otherwise, I feel like I’m playing fast and loose with the facts; this makes little sense, of course, because I’m writing fiction which, by definition, plays fast and loose with the facts. But never mind logic. Or, I should say, never mind the injection of logic into illogical cogitations.

If nothing else, though, this morning’s exercise in futility might yet serve as a rich reserve of subject matter for my writing because the character about whom I’m doing the research is a writer. I can well imagine him losing himself while following rabbits down long, winding paths rather than keeping his eyes on the fox that sparked him to sprint down that country lane from whence the rabbits departed.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Hazards

  1. Hah! Some days, I feel very much like I’m the living, breathing Sisyphus! But when I write and review and edit, I sometimes think the stone ends the day farther down the slope than it started!

  2. jserolf says:

    Reminds me of Hemngway’s approach. When he wrote The Old Man the Sea, he would begin early in the morning, though only after going back to page 1 and reading it through — making corrections along the way until he got to the point he had left off the day before….then begin into that, but then again the next day doing the same.

    In some ways, the writer enacts the myth of Sisyphus.

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