Surely you’ve heard the comment, “I found it on the Internet.” You can write an entire book just by finding information on the web, trolling around Google Earth to discover how a location looks, and verifying historical references on Wikipedia. Search through a thousand images to describe the object of your dreams or nightmares. Write it all out in your own words, add a few intriguing characters, devise a dilemma, pop in several crises and red herrings. Spend three months or a year hanging out in Starbucks sipping your favorite wrappa-frapppa-chappa frothed with whipped cream while plugging away on a laptop. Title your production, apply for an ISBN, self-publish or try for the traditional format, and you’ve got yourself a book. Maybe not a great piece of literature, but a story of sorts. Flash fiction, a six word story, a screenplay or memoir. Perhaps a prospect for a serial looms, each relating similar hi-jinks and low brow appeal. Anybody can try. Everybody can be a writer.
My newest WIP is loosely based on my grandparents’ and parents’ lives early in the twentieth century. Of course I didn’t know my parents when they were kids, and the stories they told are bereft of the details I want. I find myself checking the Internet for the facts I need for my WIP. It isn’t that I’m too lazy to go look it up in a library among the stacks of real books. It’s that the library of today is a media conference room and cultural gathering space. Kids without after school care wait there for parents; the homeless find it a safe place to doze while appearing engrossed in pamphlets left by various businesses. The unemployed bring their dismay with them while searching job opportunities; the elderly gather to read magazines and newspapers, and to socialize. Books? Many of the shelves have been swept of books, the more room for videos and CDs. So I can’t peruse the stacks in search of corroborating information for whatever premise I’ve devised – the books aren’t there. It’s Internet browsing for me as well.
Ah, computer research. There I’ve located my childhood homes – seven of them, all posing for their photos, a few looking dated and worn, but most graciously maintained and remodeled attractively. One in Philly, one in Hawaii, three in New Jersey, two in California. I discovered that Trenton and much of New Jersey were very much the center of the Revolutionary War. I grew up mere miles from the places whose history made me American. How I wish I’d been properly impressed when studying it as a kid. I learned about the arguments defending many sides of controversial subjects, and seeking noble ground, found that everything is controversial. Unknown heroes and unfamiliar words reveal their mysteries in on-line encyclopedias, dictionaries, and thesauri. (Yep, that’s the correct plural – I looked it up on the Internet.)
Several book titles related to my subject are suggested. I dare not read a book without first scanning reviews on Goodreads and Kirkus to assure I’m not wasting time on a tome I won’t like, and reading the reviews takes time. I get up to heat water for tea and remember the microwave is broken and not repairable. When buying appliances, I can find out the safety, efficiency, and value ratings before handing over my credit card, all of which I can do over the Internet and never have to enter a store. The entire world lies before me on the screen, seducing me away from everything else I need to do. Away from writing. Ah, but it’s all so interesting.
Fact is, I can find out nearly everything on the Internet, but I must write my own book. I’ve certainly heard that there are no new stories, only new tellings of old ones, and only a limited number of themes to explore. The fresh approach must be mine. Time to close the browser with all its attractive and tempting images, jingles, pop ups, cat videos, on-line personality quizzes, and links, and hie myself to my story files on my computer. I went looking for a few facts to put in my book and became distracted with a million (fascinating) excuses not to write. But I am a writer.
I could be dipping a quill into ink, scratching a pencil in a journal, typing on my old manual Olivetti. Armed with ideas and information, my story is waiting to be told, and only diligent application of words to document will result in its continuance. So now I write. New document page please.
What a delightful article. I love the repurposing of libraries. Each use is so important. I rarely roam the stacks, choosing instead to reserve books online and then go pick them up. The only shelves I browse are the New Titles, see if there’s one I’ve been looking for.
And I would never have thought of pre-ordering a book and picking it up but what a great idea you’ve suggested. It used to be much fun to peruse the stacks but with so few books left, the shelves are nearly empty and the selections are old.
And, the public library is now charging to borrow the new books – that’s criminal IMHO. The purpose of libraries is to offer free access to everyone.
I struggle with the internet distractions, now more than ever before. When you add it to the distractions of home life and family life and baseball and band and school and college and…. SQUIRRELS!!!!… you can see why I’m not getting very far in my creative life these days.
Only squirrels, Rob? But there are so many other wonderful Internet distractions. I might make one of those fabulous desserts that combine 8 different kinds of candy with marshmallows and ice cream. Or wait, here’s a site that shows which movie stars play with cats. Hold on, can’t write, gotta take this on-line personality test to see if I like butter……
I love researching on the internet, The best part is when I think of a book title, I now search for that title to make sure there is no other book with the same title. It’s a great resource 😀
I do that also, to make sure my title is my own. I bet many other people do the same. However, did you know that titles cannot be copyrighted? Thanks for your comment, Dianne.
There are tons of distractions, the internet is an easy one to fall into. I know I am guilty of having 15 tabs open while “researching” one quick thing.
Do you also make a little groan when the message comes on: You are about to close 15 tabs? Yeah, me too. Thanks for reading, Andrew.
I was doubting my method of research, wondering if what I was gathering was sufficient. After all, I’m getting every piece of information from the web. Anymore the saying I hear most is “Do believe everything you read.” When I was a kid and asked a question, often the answer I got was “Go look it up.” Now I’m being told not to believe what I look up. Anyway, because of obstacles that are unmovable for me, I open the browser and go hunting for information I hope is not all a big fat lie.
As writers, are we having fun yet?
A certain amount of what we write is by the nature of what we do, fabrication, and that’s OK. That’s the brilliance of fiction, that we create worlds so true- sounding, our readers believe.
I’d love to research by visiting other countries but that’s not doable at the moment. Like you, limitations press my reality button.