chasing the moon—and avoiding the siren's song of historical research

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Last night I went in search of the super moon. Drove up and down Lancaster Avenue only to return home to discover that the best views were from my own front lawn.

Earlier this week, Adam Levine, a dear friend, a water guy, a streams and sewer guy, and a man who possesses (I believe) the most complete knowledge of my city's vast and dispersed historical archives, came for an afternoon of cupcakes and talk. We drifted, as we tend to, toward talk of recently found photographs, newly discovered treasure troves, the idea of the lost and found inside the city's libraries and files. At one point we began to talk about how generative research is in the early stages of making a book—and how potentially paralyzing later on.

Earlier this morning, reading this week's edition of Printers Row (Chicago Tribune) rather than writing the the Tribune essay now due (an occupational hazard), I came upon an essay describing a new book—Curiosity's Cats: Writers on Research (edited by Bruce Joshua Miller). A must-buy, I'm already thinking.

And there, tumbling out of the end of the essay (penned by Miller himself), was the very sentiment Adam and I agreed on Thursday afternoon. I can't adequately express how wholeheartedly I agree with this thought. I pass it on to you:
My advice to writers is “research but write.” Don’t wait until you have gathered every conceivable fact or explored every area of interest. Put the collection away and start typing. Avoid what the novelist Margot Livesey calls in her essay, research’s “siren song.”


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