Today, I’d like to fill you in on a little secret of mine. I think I’ve mentioned how important it is to do your research – when you’re writing historical fiction, when you’re writing about something with which you do not have personal experience, when you’re writing an essay of any kind, and especially when you are referencing published and well-known books on your blog (nope, still haven’t forgiven myself for that).
I think I have also mentioned the dangerous trap that this can put a writer in – namely, me, as I do this all the time. Since research can be so daunting, and one may not know where even to begin, sometimes research can put a great idea on hold indefinitely. Like I said, this happens to me all the time.
The advice that I keep being given in these situations, and the advice that I keep giving all my readers (hypocrite that I am) is “Just write”, but if you don’t know what you’re writing it can be intimidating. I never want to get anything wrong, and editing is hard enough without having to change whole paragraphs or chapters to be historically (or otherwise) accurate. Many of my projects have been stunted or completely stopped by this problem.
However, lately I have found a great fix for this. While writing a scene in a hospital the other day, I had a doctor ordering tests for my MC. Now, I’m not a doctor, and I have no idea what tests a doctor would run when faced with the unique ailment I’ve given my MC. I could have put down my notebook, and waited until I could speak to a real doctor about it, but I was on a roll. I didn’t want to stop. So instead I wrote, “Nurse, I want to do a few neurological tests. Order a X, X, X, and an MRI”. (They always order an MRI.) I used the letter “X” in the same way it’s used in Algebra – to mark the unknown variable. It works as a place holder. I know that eventually I’ll fill it up with some learned medical jargon, but at least for now I can move on. And the great thing is, “X” by itself rarely shows up in any text, so once I have the necessary information, all I have to do is use Microsoft’s (or any other word processor’s) search/find feature and replace my “Xs” with my new knowledge. Gone are the days when lack of information kept me from finishing a project. I hope this tidbit can help you too.