X – “X”, The Unknown

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.

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8 Comments

Filed under life of a writer, writing

8 responses to “X – “X”, The Unknown

  1. Hollywood writers do this all the time. The technical term is . This was a staple of many a Star Trek episode.

    (Spoiler warning):

    Geordi: Captain, the is offline! We’re dead in space!
    Data: Captain, if we , we should be able to .
    Geordi: I think I can the . That should give us enough power to .
    Picard: Make it so.
    Troi: But Captain, Timmy is trapped in a cave on the planet. I’m sensing .
    Picard: Number One, order the transporter room to .
    Riker: Yes sir.

    and so on.

    • Apparently, if you put something in angle brackets, the editor ignores it. Let’s try that again.

      Hollywood writers do this all the time. The technical term is (technobabble). This was a staple of many a Star Trek episode.

      (Spoiler warning):

      Geordi: Captain, the (technobabble) is offline! We’re dead in space!
      Data: Captain, if we (technobabble), we should be able to (technobabble).
      Geordi: I think I can (technobabble) the (technobabble). That should give us enough power to (technobabble).
      Picard: Make it so.
      Troi: But Captain, Timmy is trapped in a cave on the planet. I’m sensing (psychobabble).
      Picard: Number One, order the transporter room to (technobabble).
      Riker: Yes sir.

      and so on.

  2. I like your placeholder idea. I tend to mark up my manuscript with the highlighter tool wherever I need to add info. The bright color makes it easy to find.

    [hoping wordpress will let me actually post this. The past week it seems to hate me and not post a single comment except on Blogger blogs.]

    • Jennifer Marshburn

      While I have been working in word processors for years, there are certain tools I still have yet to master and the highlighter is one of them. That’s why I learned to use my place holder. Thanks for reading! And it seems you’ve gotten yourself out of word press’s dog house. 😉

  3. Neat idea. I’ll be putting that one to good use. Thanks! Good choice for a tough letter. 🙂

    • Jennifer Marshburn

      Thanks for reading. I actually was able to come up with a couple ideas for that letter and while I was writing was utilizing my place holder technique. Then I realized, hey there’s an X idea!

  4. Great idea. I’ll use it. I tend to stop and get the word I need rather than writing on and looking for the word or information bit later. Thanks.
    X-cellent.

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