A detour of delightful diversions can derail even the most dedicated writer. How do we avoid procrastination’s siren song?
Procrastinating? Me? It’s research!
I recently wanted a word to describe reaching up through water, trying to get to the surface. Did I use the words I already knew would express it? Eventually, but not before I spent some time swimming through a study called Relationship Between Hand Kinematics, Hand Hydrodynamic Pressure Distribution and Hand Propulsive Force in Sprint Front Crawl Swimming.
Research is crucial for writing, right? That’s what I tell myself when I’m deep-diving into obscure topics that don’t truly relate to my work. A quick search spirals into hours reading about plein air painting or dumbwaiter repair. These subjects can be captivating, but there are definitely times I use “research” to dodge the blank page, heeding the siren call of procrastination.
Take, for instance, the time I stumbled upon a documentary about the world’s largest collection of antique doorknobs. Sure, it was fascinating, but did it have anything to do with my contemporary romance novel? Not a chance. And yet, there I was, two hours later, debating whether I should start my own doorknob collection.
Even more obscure was the time I was searching for a synonym for “gaze” and somehow ended up on a website dedicated to the history of monocles. I spent far too long reading about the rise and fall of this iconic fashion accessory, all the while neglecting the steamy love scene I was supposed to be writing. I swear, my characters are still giving me the side-eye for that one.
And then there was the great potato chip rabbit hole. I was meant to be researching a recipe, but one click led to another and before I knew it, I was deep in the world of artisanal potato chips. I learned about everything from small-batch cooking techniques to uncommon flavors like truffle and saffron. Did it make my story any better? No. But my snack game leveled up.
Detours can even inspire! My next book might feature a hero with a love for antique doorknobs and truffle-flavored chips. And when the big kiss finally happens? A monocle will be involved.
Research can be a beneficial habit, honestly.
You’re learning, after all. And our brains need breaks and idle time! Stopping the work of writing to take some time reading can increase your focus when you get back to the task. The trick is to actually get back to the work.
I learned to set boundaries to avoid rabbit holes. Often I’ve found the answer I needed within 10 minutes, so I give myself 15. Sometimes, I even use a timer. When I find interesting side quests, I save them in a folder for later. Limiting research time and feeling that I can safely return to the topic later both keep me on track.
Our characters rely on us to tell their stories, and no amount of hydrodynamic hand pressure research will write the climactic scene. Let’s balance curiosity and focus. Set timers and take charge! When you’re six tabs into ‘what sound do coyotes make,’ remember the magic doesn’t happen until we put pen to paper and weave our new knowledge into our stories. That’s when research shines, in making our worlds feel real.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a love scene to write that contains exactly zero monocles. Happy researching, and here’s to staying (mostly) on track!