January 14, 2009

Internet: dream research tool or bottomless pit of time-wasting?

When I was a kid and my favourite books were Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess (published in 1908 and 1905 respectively, though written and likely set earlier), one of my main concerns about being a writer was how I was going to be able to find out all the necessary historical details to avoid glaring anachronisms in (what I assumed would be) my many thrilling orphan adventure tales. I imagined myself poring over piles of gigantic Encyclopedia Britannica volumes, looking up entries on "pavement" and "electric lighting" and copying down pertinent dates in a little notebook and generally finding the whole thing a big drag.

Thanks to the internet, my now-important fictional reference questions like, "What year did that Tanto Tempo album by Bebel Gilberto come out?" (2000) or "What does burning hair look like?" (see approximately 3,000 YouTube videos by drunk girls) are just a couple of joyous clicks away. But I'm starting to wonder if these little licensed surf-breaks aren't seriously cutting into my writing productivity after reading a short article by Cory Doctorow on "Writing in the Age of Distraction." He has lots of great tips (go read it), a number of which I already follow, but also this doozy:

Don't research

"...That way lies distraction — an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day's idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type "TK" where your fact should go, as in "The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite." "TK" appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is "Atkins") so a quick search through your document for "TK" will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention...."

So there you have it. Just TK. No writing-mandated surf sessions. I think I'm going to try it soon and see how it goes. I do sometimes use blanks for fact-checking if I'm on a roll, but I've never tried avoiding research with any kind of rigour. I know that I could just (*gasp*) turn the internet off, but that seems horribly extreme, doesn't it?

1 comment:

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