Guard Your Time

It’s almost indecent how much I love research. Writers tend to be information and history magpies, fascinated with how the word works–or how it should work, or has worked. Much of the fun of worldbuilding is teasing out the logical implications of changes one makes in the structure of reality; even some of the illogical but likely ones. (There’s also the sheer joy of blowing up landmarks, but that’s incidental.)

With Bannon & Clare, I found myself faced with an entirely new era. I’ve read gothics and historicals, of course, but actual research on Victorian London was something I’d never been incredibly interested in before. My questions were practical: for one, how on earth did a lady go to the loo? When were hansom cabs widespread? What would happen to the social order if one threw sorcery into the mix? What would Victorian manners require in the face of sorcery? What about Queen Victoria’s personality and reign? Each question opened up into a million others.

They breed like plot bunnies. Safest thing to do is step on their heads before they can manage to hump another one and take off running.

That’s the danger of research. Way leads on to way, and you can mistake the work of research for the work of writing the damn story. Not to mention the effort of talking about it with your writing partner/research mavens. That can bleed off precious horsepower needed to get you to the end of the damn story. You have a finite amount of creative energy in a day, and frittering it away is so easy and seductive. A good rule of thumb is that above 80% of your writing time and energy should be spent on actual writing. Research, marketing, other stuff should occupy at most 20%, and that’s on the high end. Guarding your writing time jealously even in the face of needing to do tons of research is hard but necessary.

I say “guard your writing time,” but it really doesn’t convey the full idea of what’s necessary. You have to hunch over your writing time like Smaug on his hoard, like a con over a plate of food, like a starving dog over a bone. This is probably the only time you’ll hear me say “be actively cruel”: be mean about protecting your writing time, even from your loved ones. Even from things you love, like research or LOLcats. You may have to be cruel. You may have to shut a door. You may have to stay up late to write instead of watch True Blood or something. It’s sometimes unpleasant, and it’s not fair.

But that’s the way it is.

That said, there are definite joys to research you can’t get anywhere else. Like Waterloo teeth. (Speaking of teeth…) Or Lee Jackson’s Cat’s Meat Shop, a treasure trove (and huge timesink, OMG) for anyone who loves Victoriana. Or figuring out just how a woman would deal with her skirts and bloomers or petticoats if she needed to visit the loo. And let’s not even talk about cosmetics


  1. Anonymous says

    “The funny thing about research is that most of the time, readers will never know how much the writer has done—but they’ll absolutely know it if the writer *doesn’t* do the work.”
    —Cat Adams

    “Research is a blind date with knowledge.”
    —William Henry

    “Conducting research is a wonderful thing! It can keep me from having to actually write the book for months at a time!”
    —Wolf Lahti


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