research yourself, research your fiction, know more

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I confess to a certain panic.  Its causes are many, but here is one:  It is difficult for me to find the time to write, and when I do find that time, I am not writing.  I am reading the books that no one has checked out of Van Pelt Library for a very long time (ever?).  I am listening to old and scratchy German songs recorded (who knows why) on YouTube.  I am going blog by blog until I find (miraculously!) a photograph of a street corner that I walked once but cannot now remember.

I may be writing a novel, but if you were to see my office (though please don't; its disarray could offend you), you would see how it is:  the books that surround me are not my own.

Two years ago, I gave a talk about the research that underpins all my work—memoir, fable, fiction, poetry.  I was remembering this passage of the talk today.  Consoling myself (for I need to be consoled) about the slow, slow, slow of my writerly process.

Whether I’m writing memoir or novels, fables or poems, novels for adults or for young adults, I am, at one point, reaching far beyond myself to bring the greater world in.  I am following the always persistent, hardly consistent, rarely well-tiled path of my insatiable curiosity.  True, research is often either a surfeit of overwhelm, or a tease.  Still, and nevertheless, I don’t believe in bringing presumption to the page—in writing simply and only what I already know.  I don’t believe in closing doors before I’ve opened windows.  I want to be alive when I am writing—engaged, in suspense, full of the unprotected what ifs?  I want to convey my own surprise, dismay, or basic indignity right there, on the page.  Formulas don’t cut it for me.  Formulas have been done.  Research scrambles the math.

7 comments:

Lilian Nattel said...

I know that stage of research well--and it is an important part of the process, filling up the reserves. There is so much behind what appears in a book, and even though it isn't explicitly on the page, it gives the true sense of depth.

Melissa Sarno said...

So, let me get this straight. You just talked yourself out of a panic about researching too much by researching a talk you gave about research? This is all kinds of wonderful. It doesn't matter what I think but I think slow is good. I also think, when all is said and done, you're going to be (more than) okay.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I love every word here. Thank you, Beth. You always speak in a way that resonates deeply with me.

Liviania said...

I look forward to your book on scratchy German YouTube music. ^_^

Michael G-G said...

Burrowed my way out of my own disarray to read--and thoroughly enjoy--this paean to some of the other arms of writing (I see writing's patron as akin to many-armed Kali): researching, dreaming, thinking things through, resting, beginning again.

Julia said...

I've always thought that it's more difficult to write when you bid yourself to. You either can't, or get caught up in the trying.

Serena said...

I like this...but I've always wondered when do you stop the research and how...I have a certain problem with that..

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