Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wait! Stop!

It's not just the Iliad. I finally decided to take a look at the knee-high piles of books I keep stepping over, and lo and behold, there are several dozen that will be -- should be -- relevant to my own book.

All this time I've been doing micro-edits at the sentence and paragraph level, but either forgetting about or (more likely) avoiding all the behind-the-curtain research that can add such important details.

There are ethnographies of mountain tribes and accounts of polar and high-altitude explorations. Translated epics from Finland, Norway, Africa. Fraser's Golden Bough. Memoirs of Holocaust survivors. Sailing techniques and details. Theories on pre-Christian conceptions of time and the nature of reality. Victorian travelogues. On and on. It's like Christmas!

Now, I've written about this before (Good god, a year ago!?) at least twice: all the books I need to go read, all the research still to do. But I don't think I quite gave it the priority I should have. By immersing myself in all this background reading, even if each book only gives me something I can use in a single sentence, I can improve my book. Which is really the only measure.

I went through this when I wrote my plaguey master's thesis: sit down with legal pad and book, and write down everything that's interesting. Later, read through notes. Wait for monkey mind to put it all together.

(Or not. Lots of this stuff will get discarded. But the only way to figure out what will provide the killer detail and what's distracting fluff is to start taking notes.)

This comes first. Before the line edits I'd been allowing to take up my time since they allow the ongoing illusion that I'm nearly done. Ha ha, never in life!

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