NaNoWriMo: Researching la vida loca

Ah, yes, here it is, November 11, and I’m clocking in at word 10,048 of my National Novel Writing Month story–only 8,000 words or so shy of where I should be if I were the type of person to worry about these things. Which I really am, truth be told, but worry isn’t the same as blind panic, so let’s just imagine me tossing my head in a devil-may-care manner and laughing merrily in the face of pressure. Or tossing back a stiff scotch in an oh-crap-time-you-are-an-evil-cow manner and whimpering less than winsomely in the face of cold, hard truth.

Or maybe let’s not imagine me at all. That might be easier.

Let’s talk instead about research and all that simply fabulicious advice that gets tossed around about how important it is to avoid diving into the Google brain-suck pool while trying to hammer out that first draft, even if you desperately need to know whether a Sig Sauer takes a magazine or a clip or if you load it by gripping bullets the size of fingers between your teeth and spitting them into empty chambers. Even if you want to know whether it’s possible to perform a Bilateral Cingulotomy on a brain with only a paring knife and a couple of toothpicks (not recommended, by the way).  Even if you think your story is doomed to explode into a million shards of fictive splatterosity  if you don’t discover right this very exact minute how many times a day Spongebob Squarepants has to take a poop.

The preponderance of interwebby advice seems to be, “Stop! Don’t jump! Step away from the Google and keep your eyes on the story. The gaps will wait till later.” (Tell that to Spongebob after he’s stuffed his spongy self with prunes and Metamucil.)

It’s good advice. Obviously. Why waste precious noveling time trekking through the webbyverse to find out whether the frontalis or orbicularis muscles are responsible for lifting the eyebrows and making the forehead all crinkly (it’s the former); or refreshing your memory regarding the more entertaining names for the highly poisonous Caladium plant (Heart of Jesus or Angel Wings; good grief, who names these plants?); or trying to nail down that perfect shade of blue for your villain’s eyes (ultramarine? viridian? glaucous? International Klein Blue?–go on, I dare you).

Obviously your story can wait for you to plug in those pivotal bits of plotterificness at a later date. No brainer, right?

Except–and you had to know this was coming–except sometimes the story can’t wait. Sometimes the story plonks its butt down on the big comfy couch and refuses to budge until you feed it a few tasty tidbits of knowledge, of lore and legend, of nourishing Google esoterica. Sometimes the story wants the facts, ma’am, and nothing but the facts will do to get it moving again.

And the other part of the “except” is this: sometimes this weird and wonderful detour into the land of rollicking factoids brings unexpected gifts, new directions, a previously uncontemplated story angle. Sometimes that “waste” of times pays off in unexpected ways.

Of course, that could well be one of the reasons I’m 8,000 words behind, too, so you might want to go with the experts on this one.

A-to-Z Challenge: Animal sounds

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I’ve hemmed and hawed about participating in the 2013 Blogging from A to Z Challenge for months now. On the plus side, it was tons of fun last year until I fell and banged my head on the sidewalk, at which point it became considerably less fun and a whole lot more work, and eventually a group of online friends came to to my rescue. As I say, though, I had a great time until then and met all kinds of lovely people. On the down side, I’ve been slacking on the fiction writing and had decided that if I’m going to devote writing energy to anything, it really should be in that direction.

As it happens, I rarely listen to myself when I’m being practical. A few days ago I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, committing to write myself 30,000 words closer to the end of my novel-in-progress. That should, in fact, take me to the end of the first draft, or, as it’s affectionately known, the vomit draft. And that would have been that, except for the fact that this afternoon when I was lolling about feeling sick and feverish and procrastinating getting started on my first thousand words,  it occurred to me that the A-to-Z wouldn’t be nearly as much work if I could only come up with a theme that lends itself to short, pithy posts.

This led to a marathon session of web surfing (to get the creative juices flowing, don’t you know) and then, wham! Out of the blue! My theme! What could be more apropos than an A to Z of semi-useful procrastination strategies for writers and other time-wasters?

First up, it’s A for Animal Sounds, for which I offer the following links of unadulterated awesomeness:

  • Have you ever wondered what a grey tree frog sounds like? Have you wondered whether there’s any difference between the way a grey tree frog in West Virginia sounds as compared to, say, a grey tree frog in New Brunswick? Well, the Macaulay Library at Cornell University has an enormous, searchable online database of animal sounds that will answer those very questions for you. The have 19 different audio recording of grey tree frogs, to be precise. And not just tree frogs. Oh, no. The library has “175,000 audio recordings covering 75 percent of the world’s bird species, with an ever increasing numbers of insect, fish, frog, and mammal recordings as well.” It’s ear-poppingly fabulous!
  • But, you say, actually I’d find it more helpful for the particular story I’m writing if I knew how a Turk might pronounce the sound of a crow cawing. Do not despair, procrastinator. I have that link too! If you need to know how certain common animal sounds are pronounced in seventeen languages, look no further than the Derek Abbott’s Animal Noise Page on the University of Adelaide website. (According to Derek, the Turkish pronunciation of crow caws would be gaak, gaak.)

What did I tell you? Awesome, right? If you write anything–poetry, short stories, novels, travelogues, a blog, letters to your Aunt Gert–there’s no way these sites can’t be considered research. This is what I mean by “semi-useful” procrastination strategies–strategies that, in a pinch, can be justified as a productive use of time. Kind of. Sort of. If you squint and don’t mind being thought of as delusional.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more delightful time-wasters research options for your delectation.