I went to university in Scotland, and over there they do classes differently. When you show up to class, they expect you to have already read up on what they’re talking on. They expect you to have completed the reading list for the week and to be ready to listen to a lecture that opens your mind even further. Preparedness is valued, and if you aren’t prepared, you receive judgmental glares from a disappointed lecturer who then marks down your paper. Uni exhausted me, but I did learn my lesson. If you want to do something well, approach it by doing your research. Be prepared so whatever you’re doing doesn’t look like you haven’t done any reading for it.
With writing, I’ve found this to be a monumental idea. When I show up at my desk or coffee shop to write, and I’ve prepared, it shows. If I can pull the right term for a path through mountains or parts of an ancient sword from my brain (because I read up on the subject before the moment I try to write about it), writing is so much easier. I have more confidence in what I’m putting on paper.
When I don’t come prepared, it really shows and then takes a lot longer to edit that section into something good. Googling something for five minutes when you’re trying to put it in your story isn’t the same thing or the same QUALITY. If you want to be a real writer, act like it. Come prepared.
I will give a real example. At one point in my book, one of my characters goes hiking through a mountain range searching for something mysterious. I do not hike mountains. I’ve tried and made it 3/4 of the way up two very large mountains, but my fear of heights will never allow that to be something really enjoyable to me. I don’t know the terminology. I don’t know the internal feeling at different stages. I don’t know what I need to bring along to make sure I don’t die.
When I reached this point in writing my book, I was So unmotivated because I didn’t know how to make my character experience a real trek through mountains. I was reading a wonderful book called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and she suggested this. Writers are told to write what you know, but inevitably you’ll write something you don’t really know about. If you know someone who does know about that, call them and ask them about it. So that’s what I did.
I have a friend who hikes mountains. She works summers in a national park to be close to the mountains. I asked, and she let me call her and ask dumb questions. For example, what is the longest a dress could be to comfortably hike a mountain? What makes a mountain rarely climbed? How much food would I need to bring to hike for a week? Stuff that if you Google, the answers aren’t exactly straight forward. But when you ask someone who went hiking the day before, they can answer you in five seconds.
I did a lot of research on hiking and climbing before calling my friend. Then I took what she gave me and looked up more. After that was when I sat down to finish that chapter. And now, hopefully it’s not too inaccurate.
Everyone can tell the difference if you’re prepared when you put pen to paper. Fantasy readers especially have a reputation for nit-picking about the accuracy of the real stuff. So much in fantasy is made up and fantastical that getting the real details correct is important. We’ve all read books and stories that were inaccurate in the little things that it was impossible to read without getting really (maybe irrationally) angry. I do not want to be one of those writers. You should not want to be one of those writers. Come prepared. Kick butt. Write those pages.