It's hard for me to accept that one of the major tasks of a writer is to conduct research. It's hard for me to accept because the main reason why I have done so little with my life in the past year is to take a break from the mental exhaustion of school. And if we're all honest with ourselves, the life of a writer seems romantic partly because we think that as a writer we'd be able to write whatever in the heck we want to write. Well, that's simply not true.
In a sense, yes, a writer or artist can do whatever they want to. Of course, there are rules to follow or break (grammar, structure and plot lines are the major ones for writers, I think) while writing, but there are no rules about what can be written. Culture may like or dislike what a writer has to say but cultural taste does not amount to a rule. And, so, much of the writing that I have done in the past year has been whatever the heck I wanted it to be as I spouted off my thoughts without a care in the world. Even my book about my bike trip (which will be published in a matter of weeks, finally) essentially was whatever I wanted it to be because I had already done the research long before I sat down to write it.
I've come to find, however, that such a life of whimsical writing cannot long be sustained. For instance, as I started writing my novel--which has been on the backburner, way in the back, for a few months now--I realized that I needed to be accurate with my account of the streets of Boston or else people would notice. I couldn't very well set my story in Boston and not know where my characters could live and work. I couldn't say that my main character lives on Yawkey Way, because no one lives on Yawkey Way. As an example. That little bit of research didn't bother me since I am somewhat familiar with Boston and it doesn't take long to figure out where the many apartments in the city are located.
Recently my research demands have been much more heavy. My main project at the moment is a book that uses the sport of ball hockey (or floor hockey, or street hockey, or dek hockey, it has many names) as a foundation for the question of how and why and when people should do what they love at the expense of other life opportunities. Very rarely does the giver of the advice, "Do what you love in life," take into account the many compromises and sacrifices involved. That's what my book is about. In order to write this book, though, I needed to do a lot of research about the sport and the people who play the sport... even the people who don't play the sport. Another project that I'm thinking about working on after the hockey project has been completed is a little series on reading authors through the lens of faith. I covered Oscar Wilde in my undergraduate thesis, but now I want to turn to Hawthorne and Dylan Thomas. To write that series I, of course, need to read lots of Hawthorne and Thomas and a lot about Hawthorne and Thomas. So my reading lately has been entirely focused on Hawthorne.
Certainly I don't mind reading a ton of Hawthorne. He's great. But the fact that I'm reading him for research purposes and trying to do a whole lot of other research reminds me of something I said in one of my very first posts of this blog: a quotation of Hank Moody, from Californication, that being a writer is like one long homework assignment that never ends. If you're a writer, you can't ever stop being a writer--in other words, it's on your mind all the time. You can't go 9-5 and then forget about what you're doing at night or on the weekends. Also, if you're a writer you're going to have to continually engage in all sorts of school-type activities like research. It's not all fun and games or, better said, you better love the crap out of school. Becoming a writer or artist isn't a beautiful escape from the dreary life of school, it's an eternal welcoming of school life.