When I started writing Hack the Yak, I just turned on the computer, turned on the wetware and let ‘er rip. Of course, I had several years of turning over phrases and plot lines in my head as I exercised and/or woolgathered. But I really didn’t run into writer’s block; quite the opposite. It all came to a head when I finished the first draft. 126,000 words. Probably a bit overmuch of what would be characterized by any world-weary middle-schooler as ‘blah-blah-blah’. Trouble was, I loved all that background. So easy to get
sidetracked in Google, the Internet, maps, pictures on the web. So easy to let interesting (to me) non-essentials slip into the story. And I did get into it hammer and tongs. The Orlando AmTrac station? Got a picture and map location. Jelly Roll Morton’s home in New Orleans? Map, picture, wiki article. (Did you know that he often identified himself as French?) The descriptive ‘hammer and tongs’? An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English traces it to blacksmithing. And so on. Calling it Research somehow allied it with the ultimate engine of our economy and happiness, real Research (Salk vaccine, microchips, the Human Genome Project). I was vaguely aware that this compulsion of mine was counterproductive, but I enjoyed the hunt and the surprises it turned up. Then, several days ago Sean Pidgeon wrote a wonderful piece in the New York Times that he called Rapturous Research. He defines my malady thusly:
Research Rapture: A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact.
Hey! That’s what I have! The good news: it’s not terminal. (If anything, quite the opposite, but that’s for another post.) Pidgeon displays an algebraist’s skill in expansion and substitution, making the act of writing become The process of overpopulating a narrative with ostensibly pertinent facts uncovered by the author while in a clinical state of research rapture. Then, of course, the inevitable rewrite is the process of undoing the deleterious effects of research rapture.
The subtext here is: It’s OK. Time-consuming, but OK. Just don’t visit all the to-you-incredibly interesting sundriana on your reader. I’ll tell you how I learned that important piece of wisdom about characters in the next post. Oh, and Pidgeon’s new book, Finding Camlann, shows that he has come to an agreement with himself about the pull of Rapturous Research and has balanced it with wonderful, fluid prose.