How Much Is Too Much?

February 19, 2012 at 10:00 am (Writing) (, , , )

(With help from our friendly neighborhood lolcats)

I’ve been doing some research lately.

A lot of research.


As in, I started doing this research back at the end of June. I have five hundred something pages of notes, without even counting the printed off pictures and the marked up maps. That’s straight research, not even planning or character notes or anything (those are in a separate notebook).

And at some point I started wondering: am I procrastinating?

You probably know the feeling. That vague itching in the back of your skull that whispers that you’re finding more to research just to put off having to actually start. It’s avoidance. It’s fear. It’s laziness.

At first it was easy to tell the voice to stfu. After all, my topics for this project require a ton of research. There are a lot of details that have to be right, questions of timing and politics and did this exist and such not. In a well written historical, you don’t notice all the details that make the time period come alive. Get one of those details wrong? You notice. And it’s important to tackle a subject from more than one source, because sometimes new data is unearthed or an author’s bias skews the information past use, and some offer interesting pieces that others don’t.

But as the stack of notes got taller and taller and the list of finished books got longer and longer, not to mention the list of books yet to attack, the voice got a little more persistent. A little harder to ignore. Every time I found a new piece of information, something that would actually make a difference in the story, I told myself I was on the right track. After all, I’d know if I were actually finished, right? If I had enough information to write the story, I’d be writing it.

Passing the seven month mark made me sit back and try to look at it a bit more objectively. Less defensively.

It surprised me how quiet the voice was.

Do I have more information than I need? Absolutely. Even when I started skimming sections that don’t directly affect my storyline, and stopped writing down things I already had from five different sources, I still have more pertinent information than I can ever hope to filter in. It can be a benefit though; the more times I write a thing down, the easier it is to remember it without reference. These are the things I can weave through naturally because the knowledge feels as much a part of me as the story does. It’s that much less to doublecheck as I write. I’m also finding the things I don’t need.

For example, I annotated an entire biography before I realized that my character wasn’t going to have nearly as much contact with that person as I’d originally thought. Frustrating…but wait! How many people is my character going to be talking to who DO have constant contact with that person? It’s still useful information. Not as useful as I’d hoped, but still useful.

The past couple of weeks, the whole argument felt different, like suddenly that little voice was on shaky ground and I was winning.

And then? I got proof.

The library has always been a dear friend to me, but it’s become especially useful these past months. I bought a few of the books that I thought I’d use frequently but it seemed silly (and out of my means) to buy books I’d be taking such thorough notes on if it was just for one project. I’ve gone to the library again and again, finding different books or having books sent from other branches. Plus, I had the good fortune to hit upon a topic near and dear to my father’s heart, so he sent me a handful of books he thought I’d find useful. (I did) Last weekend, on the way to my mother’s for family dinner, I stopped by one of the other branches to browse through their selection.

And I came away empty-handed.

Oh, there were books that seemed interesting, books I’ll want to scan through some other time for my personal edification, but nothing I felt was necessary or particularly relevant to what I need.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

Just a couple more books, and then I can actually throw myself headlong into planning and then, just a very short time later, into *gasp* actual writing.

So in a way, I was right when I kept telling that little voice to shut up. I would know when I was ready to stop doing research. It just took a little longer than I expected it to.

So my question is: how do you know when it’s time to start writing?

And how do you deal with the doubt that comes with the question?

Until next time~

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