The Research Vortex

In the process of writing, I often pause to look up information and find myself caught in the research vortex. It’s easy to get distracted and find an hour sucked out of my day. I caught myself tracing the historical borders of the Byzantine Empire yesterday. Nevermind I started out wondering when the wildflowers bloom in Utah.

One idea morphs into another.


The same thing happened before the advent of the internet. I’d drop by the library to look something up and – whoosh, there went the afternoon. One night I actually got locked inside the university library. I was squirreled away in the stacks following the trail of an obscure reference and everybody…went home.

Mine. All mine.
Score! I had the library ALL TO MYSELF!
My head is so full of useless trivia it can be alarming to casual acquaintances. None of it bubbles to the surface without a memory jog though, but when a trigger event occurs, stand back. Verbal gush.
A colleague once got an ear-full while we were standing in front of the rhinocerous enclosure at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Most of the world’s megafauna departed along with the Pleistocene and the remaining specimens are uniquely adapted to specific…blah, blah, blah.
Don’t invite me to parties. I hunker in the corner with my cup of alcohol and mutter to myself while I people-watch. I have a friend who has a similar situation with dates. Ask her what we were doing on August 20th in 1996 and she can pretty much recall the details. Her process only works in association to calendrical dates though – I’m still trying to remember where I was living that year.
Why? Why? Why?

Mind, brain matter and memory are weird things.

I love doing research. I’m also a list-maker. Put the two practices together and I make lists of things to research. I found one recently, scribbled inside a travel journal from years ago: is there a link between tetrapod polydactylism and dwarfism. If I’d recorded the date, I could call my friend and ask her what the hell we were doing to be wondering about such a thing.
Today, I keep a file on my computer with a list of subjects so interesting, they require additional future investigation. Some of what I find will weave itself into a story, or inspire new lines of inquiry. Curiosity is why I became an anthropologist…always wanting to know one thing more. I still do.

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  1. #1 by Natalie Hartford on December 13, 2011 - 12:15 am

    Very cool Lesann!!! Curisous to the core – love it. I can easily get lost in Internet searches got wild…but that's half the fun, isn't it. LOL!

  2. #2 by Angela Orlowski-Peart on December 13, 2011 - 1:38 am

    OMG, I am chuckling while reading this, Lesann! This totally sounds like me. No kidding. I can spend hours doing research. No – days! But in the process I learn a lot. My current WIP is the reason why I know way too much about the natural disasters, mythology and rock climbing. But I wouldn't have it any other way 🙂

  3. #3 by Traci Bell on December 13, 2011 - 1:15 pm

    Hi Lesann, I keep a small notebook in my purse with all my lists and random thoughts for stories and things to look into!

  4. #4 by Angela Wallace on December 14, 2011 - 12:57 am

    I absolutely cannot write without the Internet for that reason. When I come across a detail, I want to get it right in that moment, not come back to it (in case I forget). Sometimes it's hard to find things too. One time I needed to know how a marine biologist would treat a gaping wound on a dolphin. It took a while and several reworded searches, but I learned they use a special paste which they then blowdry to harden. Presto, waterproof bandage. *grin*

  5. #5 by Jennifer Tanner on December 14, 2011 - 10:31 am

    I researched food trucks, food sanitation classes, liquor permits and Greyhound bus schedules from the early seventies (Albany to NYC) for one of my books. Lemme tell you, there are some amazing food trucks out there. Then, I decided my heroine would serve appetizers on her food truck. That was another can of research worms that should've been left for later. The curious mind of a writer is a boon and a curse.

  6. #6 by Lesann Berry on December 15, 2011 - 6:31 pm

    @NatalieCuriosity and writing are good partners – the cool part is being able to share all those silly bits of information we saturate ourselves in.

  7. #7 by Lesann Berry on December 15, 2011 - 6:32 pm

    @AngelaIt's so funny that you mentioned how much you learn about stuff in the process of doing necessary research. Through research I've figured out there are lots of places I'd love to visit and some things I'll never EVER try…

  8. #8 by Lesann Berry on December 15, 2011 - 6:34 pm

    @TraciI usually have a tiny notebook stuck away in my bag. I once scribbled a bunch of notes on the back of a ten dollar bill and then had to keep reminding myself to not spend it! I was on vacation and several times it was tempting. I finally wrote down the info elsewhere and went for coffee.

  9. #9 by Lesann Berry on December 15, 2011 - 6:36 pm

    @Angela W-I'm right there with you. I love the internet for that very reason. The endless source of information right there. It makes me completely insane when I need to check something and the internet is down. I've definately turned into one of those I-want-it-now-dammit people!Your example of dolphin bandaging is precisely why I like the web. I'd be willing to give up a lot of modern conveniences but not the internet.

  10. #10 by Lesann Berry on December 15, 2011 - 6:38 pm

    @Jennifer-I love that you had to research Greyhound bus schedules from the seventies. I can imagine that was festive! Curiosity is a boon and a curse but I'd much rather be nosy than apathetic. I spent the morning surrounded by apathetic people and it boggles my mind that some people have no interests in (at least it seemed to me) anything! Give me a gnarly question and turn me loose!

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