Where research is concerned, the prevailing advice to writers is to get the story down and then go back and fill in the details. I’ve never been good at that, simply because my brain hits a roadblock and refuses to go forward. Also, quite often I need to know how far apart places are (I use real maps on Google Earth) so that I know how far my characters are going and how long it will take them when riding their horses or walking.
This week’s research time suck was the Oracle at Delphi because for some reason I decided in a prior novel that somebody had recreated the temple to Apollo, and then for purposes of tying off storylines, decided that Davis and Angie needed to go there.
So instead of writing Chapter 20 like I was supposed to yesterday, I wasted hours researching the layout of the temple. I knew it was about 78 ft wide and 197 ft long (23.82 m x 60.32 m to be exact) and I was trying to figure out what the diameter of the columns is and how far apart they were spaced. All this was because I couldn’t find the info out directly, but the sources I found said the Greeks considered the perfect spacing of columns to be 2.25 times the width of the columns. I am terrible at math and abysmal at algebra, so I don’t know why I even attempted it.
I ended up ranting about how difficult this was, and my husband and older son trying to help with the math but also trying to convince me to just pick a height and be done with it. I do admit to being something of a perfectionist so that was hard to let go of. After educating them and my daughter on how the Greeks measured things, all I could say was, “Those Greek people!” To which my daughter replied, “There was nothing else to do, so they spent all their time doing math.”
It made me laugh and I realized how ridiculous I was being and that a close estimation was, in fact, good enough because only about 6 of the columns are still standing in the temple and it has no roof. And honestly, if anybody writes to tell me, “Hey, your info on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi is all wrong” then I will immediately rope them into giving me the correct information and update the book online. Having the ability to fix things on the fly is one big plus of being an indy author.
After 2 or 3 hours of research and 15-30 minutes ranting to my family (which they are well accustomed to at this point), I wrote three sentences describing the temple.
It took me three hours to write three sentences, and I can usually write a chapter in that amount of time.
So was it really about wanting to get it right, being a perfectionist, or something else?
As it so happens, I was listening to the “Happier in Hollywood” podcast that day and they talked about procrastination being the product of fear rather than lack of discipline/focus. I knew kind of what needed to happen in this chapter but I guess I was afraid of not getting it right. Or more truly, sitting in front of my laptop with nothing to say.
I went for a walk the next day, which usually stimulates my creative juices, and wrote a conversation for the chapter on my phone. Before bed last night I had another brief convo idea, and also wrote that down. This morning I woke up thinking, “What if Davis decides/threatens to destroy the thing?”
The cure for anxiety is action, and today I took action by transcribing my notes from my phone into my Word doc. I also happily noted that I’d already written 5 pages of material and, considering that I like my chapters to be at least 7 pages, probably didn’t have to write that much more. I did get sidetracked trying to figure out how long it takes to hike up there but after 5 minutes reminded myself that it doesn’t matter because this temple is not in Greece.
So I got to work and wonder of wonders, it just flowed. In fact, the scene will continue in Chapter 21, which I’ll work on tomorrow.