I haven’t really done one of these for a second – some times I am focused on the writing, and sometimes I am focused on the process of writing, and want to unpack the whole thing for people.
This week I have been world-building, and it involved a fair amount of research – it is hard work to replicate the structure of certain organisations in fiction, and government is worse than most. The cool thing is, once you have put the effort in, if you are writing different stories in a shared universe, it becomes a lot easier to create that sense of depth in your writing.
I have been enamoured of this deep focus technique since I read Lord Of The Rings and took the time to read through the appendices, and learn something of how Tolkien constructed his world. This expanded further as I read the Lost Tales, and the other books that his son Christopher Tolkien painstakingly put together. You have to admire that attention to detail.
For myself, in terms of research, I would say it has been a much more tangential thing on the whole. I used to engage in what I would call meta-textual reading, where I would follow a line of thought from a poem or a book, right down the rabbit hole into all the associated references, so that I could truly understand what it was that I was reading about. I feel like I benefitted a lot from being from a generation that was pre-internet, in that research was a skill, and not something made seemingly instantaneous by a search engine. The thing is, searching for something is not the same as researching it, and parroting back a Wikipedia entry is not the same as understanding what you are talking about. I am not going to decry the ways of learning and knowing things in this day and age, because I will get myself labelled as a dinosaur, but there was something to the hunt, when you were digging around in microfiches and poring through hard copies of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Now, I do read a lot of things online – Medium Articles, and various tech blogs, but there is still a certain joy in sitting down with a magazine and reading through a great example of print journalism. I don’t claim to do everything that Warren Ellis tells me, but I have gravitated towards his fiction, his comics, and his online musings, precisely because he thinks along the same line I do, and he also provides a trove of reference material every week (enough to make Matt Fraction poor), so my shelf is full with non-fiction books as well, where it wouldn’t have been before.
I long ago stated, to no one in particular, that I had an ambition to write every damned thing under the sun. I don’t know if the person listening caught on that I meant something in poetry, something in prose, and something in non-fiction about everything – but that was the ambitious task that I set for myself. I am not sure it is an attainable goal, because new things keep happening all the time … but you know what? It’s fun to keep running and trying to catch up. My passion for doing this has really helped me to produce a lot of work, and now, one of the things that I am focused on is turning some of this energy towards helping other people. As soon as you announce anything like this, you get a lot of artists wanting to be part of that something – it’s great; it’s very pro-survival. I love it.