Taking care of business
I attended the “Doing Your Research” panel at Festival of Books today. Well, it wasn’t so much a panel as two authors, Steve Berry and Michael Palmer, and the moderator Josh Bazell, also an author and a doctor. Palmer is an M.D. and Berry, a lawyer. The discussions were interesting – particularly Berry’s writing process. Turns out writing is a job and a business and not so much an art. Okay so as usual I exaggerate. I tend to romanticize the writing process as an altruistic endeavor, a pouring of your soul onto a page, a careful and precise use of words to tell a story for the sake of the story. But what I learned is, writing is a profession where discipline and process go hand in hand. Berry described his work schedule where he allots so much time for research, so much time for writing, marketing, etc. and he has one book being plotted, one book being researched and another in the writing process at any given time of the year. He stated he had not had a vacation in three years. I kind of thought just writing would be a vacation but not the way he approaches it I suppose.
They did speak on research and the importance of accuracy. Since Berry’s books are usually heavy on history, I was very interested in his methods. Both he and Palmer emphasized that Internet information is not to be relied on. They verify their research through published works and first hand sources if they can find them. I can see their point. You can find ten different answers to any given question via Internet research. Basically they read everything they can get their hands on relating to their subject and follow up with location visits if necessary.
One of the most important things I got out of the hour from both the authors was the advice to write about what you love. The old adage about writing what you know according to them is a crock. Write about what you love and do the research to fill in what you don’t know.
Honestly I went to this because I wanted to hear Steve Berry talk. I enjoy his books. They are not great literature but they are entertaining. Although I’m sometimes underwhelmed with his endings – his books are stuffed full of art and history but once you actually piece it altogether it’s a bit of a let down. Not always, but on occasion – The Alexandria Link comes to mind. I have the same issues with some of Dan Browns books. But you know, I’m writing a blog with a readership of 3 on a good day so who am I to critique published and successful authors.
All in all an interesting hour in which I learned that writing is a disciplined profession (i.e., I shouldn’t sit and wait for inspiration to visit, I must go looking for it) and its okay to write about what you love (so you think a book about watching tv sitcoms and eating chips will sell?)
By the way may I add that Berry comes across as very likable and intelligent, and quite handsome. His folksy little southern twang was a bit of a surprise -sounded a bit like Jeff Foxworthy. In reading up on him, I’ve found he’s very much interested and works toward historic preservation.