Before starting this essay, I researched the whole notion surrounding the Abraham Lincoln quote where, if given 8 hours to cut down a tree, he would spend the first 6 hours sharpening his axe, and nearly distracted myself into reading his biography. I can’t find the specific speech or letter for proper attribution, so I think it’s a fake quote, however, the intention is still worthwhile. Before starting any task, be informed and prepared. That’s obvious, right?
Research and preparation aren’t fun. Writing is fun.
We often want to skip the difficult work in life, especially when it can be done by others or isn’t required, because of our natural instincts of finding the paths of least resistance. If we have a goal of writing a novel in a month, then we might think that the fastest way to get that done is to just start writing. Let the word barfing begin! Thirty days later, we’ll have an award-winning novel on our hands, if we just keep up a decent writing pace, right? Any problems that happen during the writing process can be blamed on the writing itself, right? If we give up, it was because the idea was too ambitious, right?
Cut down every element to its essential elements.
Unlike me, you might want to keep the reader shrouded in this writer’s illusion that ‘it was easy’ and that there was some magical ethereal element to the whole process. It’s not that I disrespect supernatural conjurings or practices that achieve similar results. It’s just I approach my writing as I’ve approached my career in technical support, namely, there’s a problem and I need to find the solution. I have to ask as many questions as I can, think of as many variables as possible, and address any lingering psychological issues before I can act. Sometimes, it’s a simple break/fix situation. Other times, it’s a complex solution handled by some exclusive esoterica.
All I’m asked to do in my career is to gather pertinent information.
Doing that research is the same as sharpening the hypothetical axe to cut down the hypothetical tree and saying “Lincoln’s axe” is a convenient shorthand for that. When we write stories, we should prepare ourselves by knowing our characters and environments, so our research while writing will be minimal. The prior research I did on Lincoln’s axe helped me avoid spending too much time during this writing process to think about the direction of where this essay should go. I bring up Lincoln’s Axe and now the Iceberg Theory, which I’ll summarize Hemingway’s shorthand as knowing a majority of the situation but omitting as much as you can, as two ways to approach the same question:
How much research should one do for their stories?
For me, I’ll endlessly research the environments in “The Story,” which is the universe where this 2019 novel – a thirty-day period at Eville Medical in the Sammohini Arc of “The Story” – will take place. That endless research won’t be stuck on exclusive esoterica, however. Throughout my career, I’ve decided I’d rather be a generalist than a specialist, because it’s great from a job security perspective being the only one that knows how to fix that exclusive esoterica, but what happens when it breaks on your day off? I don’t care what specific color of tile are on the floors in a wing of Eville Medical.
You probably don’t care about the tile colors, either.
The amount of “care” we both have is rooted in its inherent value. Do the color schemes evoke a mood or perspective? What if the scene takes place somewhere where there are black and white tiling and there’s a decision that’s being made that seems “black and white” for one character but not another? Then that’s pertinent information that can help show the perspectives of the characters without directly stating them. Otherwise, I trust you, as my reader, would rather fill in the blanks yourself than paint by numbers if the information isn’t relevant.
How do we know if the information is irrelevant?
Well, it took me about three minutes of reading through the article about Lincoln’s Axe, where it talked about his upbringing and how he edited his own autobiography early on into his first election cycle before I realized how little of it was actually pertinent to my own question: What context did Lincoln talk about sharpening his axe? [Never.] When we sharpen our own axes, by researching elements of our stories, we’ll have to sift through many bits of irrelevant information, and there’s no easy way to automate that, so we’ll just have to read and view as much as we can prior to writing.
If I had, I might have shaved off ten minutes of research while writing.
If I had spent fifteen minutes researching instead of five, then this essay might have been more focused, but this is itself an example of where there’s a balance. I had the passion to want to write and didn’t let the research distract me from writing, but when I got to those inevitable writer’s blocks that make you question what you wrote or the direction you’re going, that’s when you either need to take quick mental breaks to research or distract, or, take a physical break to prevent eye strain or worse. Through the writing, I arrived at the key question I could plug into my research engine of choice to arrive at the answer I wanted to find.
Given 8 hours of time to write, don’t spend 6 hours researching.
If pressed for numeric advice, I’d say spend 2 of those 8 hours researching your fictional world’s universe. When your thoughts start aligning in the patterns where you can start to visualize what you want to write or even conversation items conjure up from your imagination and it becomes easy, write, then edit later.
If you’ve been sharpening your axe for 6 hours, and can’t tell the difference between how sharp your axe was at hour 2 versus 6, you’re not there yet.
|Sources: My personal and professional experiences.|
|Inspirations: While writing “Writeathon With Wisdom,” I thought back to a game jam scene where I talked with a team that was brainstorming with post-it notes on a wall. They were brainstorming and researching ideas they could build in the time period allotted. That scene will always stay with me as one of the best of many positive events from covering those events. We talked about this concept there, so whenever I think of this quote, I have that visual accompaniment. The idea came back to mind because I’m starting the researching phases of my 2019 Novel writings and deciding what I need to figure out. I’ll have to explore those specifics in another essay.|
|Related: Other 2019 Novel writings.|
|Picture: This template image isn’t that sharp and many pictorial people might scoff at it, but it’s as sharp as it needs to be for its purpose.|
|Written On: October 24th, 2019 [56 minutes, from 7:35pm to 8:31pm, if you include the times I distracted myself by researching, WordPress]|
|Last Edited: October 24th, 2019 [First draft; final draft for the Internet]|