Don’t Get Stuck in the Research Hole
This post is probably the most imperative for Pantsers like myself, but all writers could use these tips and reminders. Let’s face it: Writers have enough excuses to get themselves distracted.
What is a Pantser?
Writers are generally pigeonholed into two personality types:
You have Plotters: Writers who pre-plan before they ever start writing.
And you have Pantsers: Writers who “fly by the seat of their pants”. Sometimes, they just start writing a story, no planning involved whatsoever. Sometimes, they have a basic idea but lack a well thought out plot line or story arc.
Occasionally a hybrid of the two exists, but generally speaking, you lean more one way or the other. Some writers will try to tell you that one way is better than the other.
THIS IS NOT THE CASE.
There are highly successful career writers on both ends of the spectrum. Stephen King is generally a Pantser. JK Rowling is a big Plotter. Both are stupid famous.
Honestly, as long as you get the writing done, the style doesn’t matter. One is going to work better for you than the other.
I am a Pantser.
When I started my current WIP, my outline summary was 12 sentences. Yeah, you read that right. Twelve. Two paragraphs. And then I started writing.
*moment of silence for the Plotters who are having a panic attack*
Alright, still with me? I had a couple of the main characters thought out in my head, wrote a basic character sketch, and that was it. Everything else came later. Either way you do it, whatever way feels comfortable and natural… the same work is eventually completed.
Character Bio’s. Scene descriptions. Some sort of timeline of events. If not, come editing time when you look back on your work, you are going to have a terrible mess on your hands.
(And let’s be real, it’s probably a terrible mess anyway.)
And seeing as us writers are slightly fragile, although vicious killers of hearts/bodies… We don’t need a terrible mess to deal with after draft one that convinces us to scrap the damn thing.
When working on a manuscript, and you write yourself into a corner where you don’t know WTF you’re talking about next, how much research is too much?
If you get sidetracked from writing and get stuck in Wikipedia for the rest of the day, that’s too much.
Sometimes, when you’re writing, an idea pops into your head about the overall plot. It’s not something that’s directly related to your scene right now, but it could be something to add later on down the road. But, you don’t know enough about it. So you start Googling. Because why not? And then NO WRITING GETS WRITTEN EVER.
Listen, I’m a big fan of Wikipedia. It’s great. But those little blue links are the kiss of death to a writer who’s researching their child. I mean, novel. It’s too easy to google an article on say, the red light district in 19th century London, and hours later find yourself reading about the Chupacabra.
True story. It happened. Unfortunately, what started out with the best of intentions became a huge deflector of time. Time that is precious. Time that you have a limited supply of to begin with because you haven’t made it BIG yet. You have a job and kids and cats. Writing time should be writing time, and only writing time. Not Wikipedia time.
Make a small note, and investigate later.
2) When in doubt… Use a Bracket.
We’ve all been there. You’re writing along, happy as a clam and you hit a wall. You can’t think of the right word. Or person, place or thing. So, what do you do? Cry? Give up for the day? You might want to consider using brackets instead.
“Yadada yada yada [thing I cant remember but will come back to later] yada yada yada”
It’s a method that not only allows you to:
A) Keep your writing session momentum going and
B) It’s also saving you from yourself.
So now, you’re able to completely invest yourself in your writing. Writing time is limited. Spend your writing time on ACTUAL WRITING.
Trust me, whatever it is, you can look it up later. Or it will come back to you in the middle of the night and you can make a note of it. An actual note, not the infamous “I’ll totally remember that” mental note that writers think they will remember. We never do.
Worst case scenario? You never remember it and come back to it in editing. And that’s perfectly fine. Plus, you can always do a search through your MS and find any brackets easily. Thank GOD for technology.
3) Move on to a different scene altogether.
OK, so let’s say that your brick wall of doom is actually looking like a plot bunny that’s going to need some serious looking into. It happens. You’re going to have to take a break from writing, right? Not necessarily.
Personally, I’ve never written a story in sequential order. So go out of order. I dare you. Take a break on that particular scene or chapter, and work on a scene that you know is going to happen at some point in the story. That way, you still accomplished some writing for the day, and don’t feel like a complete failure for writing yourself into a corner.
Then, eat some cake or drink a beer. You deserve it.
Have any other tips or tricks on resisting the urge to get stuck in a research hole?
I’d love to hear them.