It used to happen to me when I was writing college papers: I’d get so caught up in researching that I’d just keep going and going until I ran out of road and had to pull an all-nighter to get the paper written. Sound familiar?
Well, we may be a long way from all-nighters and pizza study groups, but many of us (I’m definitely one of the tribe!), still find the impulse to gather ever-more information seductive. Only now, all this activity isn’t aimed at teasing out themes of motherhood in Beowulf or Victorian echoes in F. Scott Fitzgerald, but on our novels or short stories.
A recent post called “How Not to Deal with Anxiety” by Stacey Gill, the creator of One Funny Motha (http://onefunnymotha.com/), a humorous parenting and cultural commentary blog, says it all. A witty and incisive author of several books, Stacey teaches a course on launching a blog for the Writers Circle and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and Good Housekeeping. Here’s how Stacey captured her “research” mindset:
“First I must conduct exhaustive research. So I spend my days Googling and reading up about agents instead of actually writing the letters because that’s easier. Plus, I can never be sure I’ve gathered enough information. There’s always another link, more to read. When will I know everything?
“I keep reading and wasting more time. But all the advice tells you to study up on the agents and the industry. The agents want to know why you’ve selected them, why your project is right for them. After hours of research, I still don’t know. I become paralyzed with indecision. So I do nothing.”
Sound familiar? Having Google at the tip of our fingers has only made all this more difficult to keep under control. Whether we’re writing nonfiction or fiction, the impulse seems to be the same: We want to make our work the best it can be, but we need to know more about X, Y, or Z to add more color, more detail. We jump into research mode and disappear down the rabbit hole. Our writing morphs into researching and we find ourselves in an endless loop: Our story idea, once so fresh and appealing, now seems overwhelming and beyond our reach.
As Stacey said so well, over research is often a form of anxiety. Whether we’re checking out literary agents or secret agents, research can easily drift into a sneaky form of non-writing. At a certain point, we need to put on the brakes, integrate what we’ve learned into our pages, identify gaps and fill them in later. “In writing, forward motion is everything” — so said the fabled editor and writer, Michael Korda. A great point!
How about you? Have you found ways to deal with over-researching? If so, I’d love to share them as we all write on.