Perfectionism, Procrastination or Research

When is RESEARCH just another form of PERFECTIONISM or PROCRASTINATION?

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. It’s been said by many different writers, motivators and teachers. It’s the writer’s biggest obstacle to getting anything done. The fear of the work not being good enough prevents it from flowing and growing. Perfectionism is the little tyrant that sits on your shoulder saying, the work is crap, so you better make it better before you move on!

‘Making it better’ can demand a lot of editing along the way. It demands that you stop what you’re doing and Google that idea or go to that place or do that thing. Research. The only thing is, it doesn’t make it better because it interrupts the flow of the idea and stops you from ever getting to the end.

Research is obviously important for authenticity and detail but there’s a time to do it and that is not in the middle of the writing. Fiona McIntosh, masterclass teacher and author, says do all the research first, then sit down and write from start to finish. This makes sense when you’re trying to get the story down. It also prevents the research from becoming a form of procrastination.

The first draft of my first novel has been smattered with research. Word choice has me reaching for the dictionary. The suggestion of a place has me sucked down the internet tunnel. Both, most definitely, are the combined forces of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

And then I downed tools and went to Ireland, to research a County, a culture and a nursing home. For a chapter of my novel! Of course it was useful. Of course it was enlightening. Of course it will make my novel better. But was it necessary for what I was writing? Probably not! It was the Perfectionist and Procrastinator that made me do it!

Procrastination will find us an endless list of things to do before we can possibly start that important project. Whether it’s washing the dog or writing a blog, we can rationalise that it was essential before we get onto the task. Make sure that research isn’t just another excuse.

Research becomes another form of perfectionism and procrastination when it interferes with the writing. Do it before you start the first draft. Do it before you start the second draft. But don’t let it be the excuse that stops the flow. Don’t let it be the scene on the side of the road that slows and jams all the traffic.

Let research be interesting. Let research be fun. Let research take you to places you’ve never been before. But don’t let research gobble you up. Don’t let it be the wolf in sheep’s clothing!

 

 

Research

Researching components of the novel is important and tricky. The main reason I’m here in Ireland is so that I can write the Irish component authentically. I did my preparation before I left home – wrote out my questions, things I needed to find out, places to go etc. Google was helpful in giving preliminary details and opening up more questions.

So yesterday, I set off in the car from Galway to find out where my character’s brother lives. I found the perfect spot, took photographs, screen shot the location and drove on to the next point. This was an airport over an hour north. Braving the perpetual rain, I parked and ran inside. I got out my phone camera and it was dead. It wasn’t just battery dead, it was dead-dead! The dive into the toilet the night before had done its damage, water insidiously working its way through to the mother-board while I remained ignorant of the impending destruction. (“Feck” as the Irish say.)

Once I reached Donegal, the hope I’d maintained vanished as the mobile-phone repairer opened it up for surgery. Feeling inexplicably desperate, I bought a new phone and hoped the cloud would find my photos. Nope – hadn’t backed them up to the cloud! Fellow researchers – do this!

Drowning my sorrows in wine and chocolate, I slept on it and started today with renewed vigour. I had to find the nursing home I’d selected in Donegal for my character’s mother. Coughing up to pay for data roaming was a decision not taken lightly, but I couldn’t find a specific address or location on a map. This seems to be typical of Ireland. Apple map sent me off to a weird place and spoke to me in Irish. Google map sent me on a wild trip up a pot-holed tiny laneway. I kept saying to myself, this can’t be right. I stopped at the closed gate with the patrolling donkeys. Getting out to pat them made me feel marginally better.

Giving up, I decided to sight- see for a while. Getting back on the highway (all roads have a speed limit of 100km/hour) I sped past a sign that my shrunken brainwaves recognised as the name of the nursing home. Calmly, I pulled over and went back to follow the sign, finding that it was another narrow, tree-covered, gravel road. Nevertheless, I persevered and found myself at the nursing home. This was a great reward.

Finally, I had to find where my character’s mother lived. The young chap in the tourist information centre was so into helping me, I’ll name him in the novel. He Google-mapped and street-viewed and came up with a solution which I was able to check out in the afternoon. Perfect!

What great fun! This is sight-seeing with purpose and even the deviations and frustrations lead up other laneways. I’ve now found out a new word too – boreen – little road. How many can I explore?