I like to participate in writing workshops and meeting other writers there; last month I attended a three-hour class designed for fiction writers at any stage of their careers. The presenter asked us to consider whether we spend time on reading and on researching which could be allocated to writing, and to evaluate whether our reading and researching habits are normal or addictive, whatever is normal may be normal in this context. The learning outcome was to develop a strategy to overcome reading addiction and/or over-researching a writing project.
We were given questions to decide how much time we spend reading material not connected with current writing, and how much time we take on research for this. My responses indicated that I spend too much time on both these, plus that I don't feel guilty as apparently I should.
Yes, I am addicted to reading for pleasure. Yes, I'm aware it does sometimes hinder my writing processes. Do I plan to reduce this amount of reading time? I'm not convinced I should do this; although I've always been a slow writer, this is the way I work. Do I over-research? Yes, I do. I love browsing in lending libraries for books to borrow, and in the State Library for reference books. I don't particularly enjoy researching on the internet, but this has become a necessary source of information (hopefully accurate). I've collected reams of hard copy notes, some of which had no bearing on the subject I was researching but are interesting anyway, several were marginally useful, and others definitely required. I still have these notebooks and associated printouts, photocopies, pamphlets, newspaper and magazine clippings long after the novel they were used for has been published. Perhaps if I didn't spend so much time reading, I'd find the inclination and hours to clear out this pile!
For Finding Billie, I needed to check several aspects. She's a mechanic; I'm ignorant about anything to do with cars except how to drive and how to re-fuel, but I didn't need to know anything specific about their innards. I did need to be sure that her workshop and shop area appeared authentic, and checked out repairers and service stations large and small. Zac is a professional photographer; being in the aim and click category myself, I investigated camera stores for details. Neither of these occupations involved research either in print or on the internet, being simply tasks that must be done physically on site. Other essential elements entailed various research sources, but the piece of research I truly enjoyed was generated by a handsome century-old two-storey building in perfect condition (currently used for a library and offices) which I discovered during a road trip in country New South Wales.
I had rough ideas for Billie's story, and suddenly I wanted a similar building to become a crucial plot point. It was constructed from limestone, something about which I knew nothing and so set about researching. This became the material most used for buildings in her fictitious historic country town; mainly on the internet, I learnt about its properties, quarrying, building construction and restoration. There's no limestone where I live: I revisited my original building, and located several other limestone areas and a quarry. All this took a long time, and was it over-research? Probably, and I had such good time doing it.
Back to the reading/researching addiction. I failed to develop a strategy to overcome this, and can't summon the discipline to attempt to do so. And in the end, does this matter? Writers are individuals with differing time availabilities, priorities and interests; as long as we get the job done to our and our publisher's satisfaction, let us read and research as much as we want, not necessarily only as much as we need.
Enjoy your reading! Priscilla