Research & Writing: Is Balance Needed?
Toward the end of last week, I finished one of my writing sessions around the time that my wife, Kim, came home from work. When we got around to chatting about my progress, I talked about how far along I came in terms of word count - an indicator I tend to use to know where I am with the book and how much more has to be written before I could consider it to be complete. For the time being, I've kept a closer eye on word count more often than I likely will in the future because for a first book, length matters. For the science fiction genre, most sources that I've found recommended a final word count to be between 80-100k words- for a first book; any longer than 100k words and you run the risk of publication houses ignoring your creation due to the higher risk that comes with publishing a lengthy novel by someone that's never been published before.
Word count was my focus of the conversation - but then Kim asked me, "How about your research? What was learned today for your book?" I had a particularly busy research day, so I had a lot to share. At the end of my summary, I concluded with, "Unfortunately, the time spent conducting my research ate into the time I would have spent writing, so I didn't knock out my daily word count goal for today."
Kim responded, "If you are researching, you are writing." And then something to the effect of, "You shouldn't be caught up in the numbers. If the research helps solidify parts of your book, take the time needed to get it done." I don't remember the exact words, but the message was clear, and something that left me thinking about one of my more public goals with writing: daily word counts.
In my most recent newsletter, I mentioned that due to the success I had with hitting my monthly word count goal in July for my book, I wanted to up the ante for August. However, despite the calendar being mostly open, I realized that I came up to a portion of my book that required a lot more up-front research than was expected. There were reasons for this, but I didn't ever feel out of sorts because of the extra time spent conducting research - time that could've been spent writing. This extra chunk of time, in terms of monthly goals, set me back quite a bit, but the end-results will be, I believe, very satisfying for the reader and certainly for myself.
This leads me to a famous quote by one of my idols in life: the creator of Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and so many games and game characters that are ingrained into my life.
He was getting at something that I believe applies to writing, despite his profession being in the video games industry. For Miyamoto, the quote wasn't so much about game-breaking bugs or graphical glitches - his concern was about the game itself: The gameplay, the overall design, the controls - things that really cannot be fixed at a fundamental level because they are the game, and no amount of updates can fix something that's fundamentally broken right out of the gate. If anything, this idea applies even more with a book because you cannot patch a book that's already on a bookshelf. You cannot push updates over the internet to a printed novel.
For my book, there are many elements large and small that I want to make sure don't just sound plausible, but are backed by facts and our understanding of the universe today. In addition, there are many elements of the book that revolve around our society that I feel must be reflected accurately, even if I'm giving many parts of it a different spin. By ensuring the research for these aspects are done and are reflected in my words, the work will benefit and my book will benefit.
If that means I find myself "behind schedule", then so be it. In the end, the time spent conducting research will result in a better novel - a book that I can be truly happy about once I've typed the final word in the manuscript.
Research is an important part of any book that one is writing, especially in the world of science fiction. Spending time researching ahead of starting your book is critical, but you shouldn't be afraid of stopping where you are and conducting a new round of research. It's better to realize that you should dig into a certain subject or subjects than to continue writing blind, with the result being that you return to that section during an editing process and realizing that you would re-write large chunks of your book post-research. For me, tracking word count is a motivator for daily success, but factoring in something more intangible like reading research papers and encyclopedia entries must be considered as time well-spent.