If you’re a writer you know exactly what that title means. Working on a project usually requires research; I don’t know what I’d do without internet connection, honestly – I’m too busy to take a day and plough through the local library, and as my local library consists of 99.9% German books anyway it’s not very helpful for writing English novels. I have an extensive library here at home, and my research section is better equipped than the public library… but I digress. Sometimes distractions come at you from every side; I feel like those dogs in “Up”… Squirrel!
And that’s the point. Let’s say I go to YouTube for research: It’s a great place to find out how to do just about anything, from how to throw a keris dagger and the aerodynamic difference between the wavy and the straight blade; how to make a vase out of a plastic bottle; how to make yarn from plastic bags; how to make an emergency stove out of a coke can or a light bulb out of a PET bottle with water, and the list goes on and on and on and on. There are also hundreds of documentaries available on YouTube, from entertainment like the Horrible Histories series, to astronomy, science, history, you name it. But if you’re like me you are interested in all of the above; and like Pringles, it’s hard to watch just one. When I need a change of pace I also like to watch things on YouTube like the Actor’s Studio series, or talk show interviews (and we don’t have English-language television channels, which is actually fine by me – we use our television for sports programs and DVDs – but I digress. Again.). And YouTube is just one resource. I have dozens of links to glossaries, websites that specialize in various aspects of history, science, technology, historical fashions, linguistics, etymology or other areas of interest, reference and research.
An important rule in dealing with online information is to have it confirmed by legitimate sources before using it, for instance, as a basis for anything substantial in a novel or other work of literature. That rule has led me more than once to buying a book online. In researching for The Price of Freedom and Redemption, I was especially frustrated with online research in the area of accurate apparel: 1788 was a world of difference in England to 1790, as the French Revolution changed fashion sensibilities in England – people distanced themselves from France, and patriotic influences as well as English fashion designers and trend setters came into their own more because of the vacuum. But most online research that I came across either had the 18th century all lumped into one style, or “1700 to 1750” and “the latter half of the 18th century” which meant “French Revolution and thereafter” nine times out of ten. Dubious at best, that. Not even contemporary paintings are an accurate reference, as many of the “new middlings” had their clothing, and even background houses and gardens, “augmented” (read “upgraded”) for their paintings to add elegance to their new money. And often, when I search for “18th century” I come across sites that actually mean the 1800s (that is, the 19th century). My definitive source of information on that topic has become “The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England.”
So in trying to find one tiny little detail for fleshing out a scene, one can spend hours surfing, reading, searching, scanning and getting distracted by something else interesting along the way. Yesterday I spent hours trying to find online PDFs or text of any kind from actual October 1789 The Times (London) newspaper (I’d have been satisfied with any month of that year!), just to find out what topics were being written about in the newspaper at the time aside from the Revolution. What were the gossip columns writing about? What kind of advertisements were there? What were things considered newsworthy in that newspaper that year? So far, Research – zilch, Time Spent – 3+ hours. I looked at archives.com, Google images… nothing. If anyone knows a resource for that, please let me know!! (If you think it would be impossible to find such old bits and pieces online in the cyber age, think again; I’ve found all kinds of documents far older that have been digitalized; someone out there is interested in it besides me, and chances are, someone has uploaded it into cyberspace; it’s just a matter of finding it in the static of cutesy videos and brainless teenage selfies…)
It can be so easy, and so enticing, to “waste” hours researching. I try to follow two rules, and perhaps they’ll help you save time as well:
1) Set a time limit for research. When I need a break from the manuscript, but I don’t want to stray too far, I look at the clock and set myself one hour to find something on my research list.
2) Make that research list; as you’re writing, keep a list somewhere (I have an e-post-it on my desktop) of things you’ll need to research, and do it all at once or in organized chunks. It helps keep you focused on the manuscript, and makes the time you spend both on and off the actual script more efficient.