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Maggie Shipstead Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 1.22.13

"Like lots of fiction writers, I rely on research to reduce the odds of embarrassing myself. I don’t want to, say, have the wrong flowers in bloom at the wrong time in the wrong place or get everything wrong about whales or guano harvesting or France. Even one lonely mistake can ruin the reader’s willingness to participate in the illusion of fiction, and I’m not into making things harder for myself. That said, I might be galloping along, churning out the pages (or, okay, sentences), when an uncertainty arises and suddenly I'm wallowing in a Wikipedia bog that gets deeper and wider the further in I go. Links lead to other links lead to actual books. I wade out toward the edge of the Internet; I consult my ever more crowded shelf of odd, specialized reference volumes; I might go to the library. Research slows down writing, but sometimes a little drag is a good thing. Often while looking up the answer to one question, I stumble across an unrelated detail or a chronological coincidence that changes the course of my story and gives it new life. Research gives you the chance to be a magpie, spotting those irresistibly shiny bits and pieces. Grab what you need and then grab what strikes your fancy; take it all back to your nest; get back to work."
Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements (Knopf, 2012)

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