“Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature.”
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

RESEARCH: Ur Doin It Wrong
Wed 2008-10-29 13:58:38 (in context)

I am ashamed that yesterday, despite my 9K intentions, was a 3K day. The first 1K happened well-nigh immediately, and then the next 2K happened from about 8:00 and 10:00 PM.

In my defense, here's some of the things that happened in between:

  • Got some necessary paperwork signed
  • Load o' laundry washed and hung to dry
  • Handed off some NaNoWriMo stickers to the Colorado::Boulder region's unofficial Longmont-area co-ML
  • Broke the bolt securing my bike seat
  • Got said bolt replaced
  • Cooked dinner
  • Washed dishes
  • Researched industry data points relevant to my current project
  • Brought in load o' laundry

The thing that took the most time? The research. Duh.

Obviously I can't talk about this stuff in detail. But let me at least make some notes about the process.

Research in the Imperative. In other words, "Do this, do that, et voila, you're done." A how-to document. These are easy. All I have to do is learn how to do a thing, then describe how to do the thing. I can write a how-to without much trouble. The portions of these freelance projects that are how-to are fairly easy and quick (although this is clearly a relative term when we're talking documents exceeding 15K words). I've also been doing a bunch of how-to at the office as I prepare my co-workers for doing the tasks I did for the past 4 years that I've worked here. They're tedious, they involve constantly cropping screenshots in MS Word, but they don't require hours of research before writing.

And then there's research in the indicative. Research where I have to define terms or process industry statistics, and convert this into informative prose that hangs together and moves towards some sort of point. Defining terms isn't so bad, but statistics? Hoo boy. Not only is it tricky to get the Internet to cough up these data points without my spending money I don't have on professional reports, but then... well, it's just data. Percentages and stuff. It needs to be synthesized into some sort of story before I can begin writing. And, with the very rare exception pertaining to election years, I have this innate response to numeric data which approximates boredom.

So I end up spending hours searching, reading, searching more, reading more, and occasionally making a false start on the writing. Then erasing the writing. Then reading more. And while reading, feeling this helpless and desperate sort of "how the heck am I going to use this data? Can I use this? I can't use this. Ooh! I can use this paragraph--only, how? Crud I have no time to be reading this! Crud I'm sick of reading this! Cruuuuddddd!"

I think I must be doing this wrong.

Certainly it doesn't help to be ALT-Tabbing between the web page and my project every two sentences, viewing every sentence I read through the filter of "Can I use this?" The key, apparently, is to simply allot myself a few unpressured hours during which I have permission to be fascinated with what I'm reading, and the narrative will just sort of create itself in my head during this time. I am sure that given a good two weeks or more 'til deadline, I can relax enough to convince myself that I love statistical data. Yum, Bureau of Labor Statistics! Excellent, the U.S. Census! Feed me trade publications because I am hungry!

Obviously a conclusion I should have come to about two weeks ago. Oh well. However, there is this: the hardest 3K of the project is done. Also, I seem to have underestimated how much time I'd have to work on things today. Which is good, because I've done 15K in a day, but I don't like it much.