There comes a point when a decisive author sets his research books aside, sweeps his desk clear of notes, throws his appointment book into the trash and declares in a loud and lusty voice, “I shall begin!”
Then, supposedly, he should turn to his computer, type CHAPTER 1 at the top of his brand new Word document, and let loose a torrent of words that don’t stop until he has reached the end.
That point continues to retreat before me like a mirage in the desert. The faster I run towards it, the quicker it picks up its heels and keeps ahead of me. This is, to be honest, my fault. I am having too much fun researching the new novel.
For example, this morning, while standing around glumly in the morning half light of my apartment waiting for the Latin Tornado to get out of the shower so I could brush my teeth, I spotted a school text book entitled Readings in Urban Theory. Glancing around, I pulled it off the shelf and realized that I should read it. Because I’m creating a New York city of 2095, and have decided to change its current setup quite drastically. But how do I know that my decisions and changes are wise and prescient, or at the very least not completely idiotic? Am I missing some key elements, overlooking certain vital details? How can I make this city of the future seem as real and logical as possible?
I realized, standing there in my robe, that I needed to read Readings in Urban Theory. I’d have to set aside the History of WW1, The Meaning of the 21st Century, Cry The Beloved Country and Black Cats and Quantum Theories. I’d get back to them, but first, at the very least, I had to devour Chapter 2: The Future of Global Cities.
And so it goes. Each passing week I learn more about the different elements that will go into my book. The political makeup of South Africa. The history of the steam engine. The projected future of nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence. Troop movements through New York in 1918. The list grows and grows, and the amount of research I need to do before typing out CHAPTER 1 seems to increase exponentially.
But what choice do I have? I could shelve all the books, roll up my sleeves and plough in, but the resultant text would be full of inaccuracies, erroneous assumptions and lacking in details that would endow it scintillating verisimilitude.
So instead I read on, research, learn, flesh out and develop. I take notes, I revise, I conjecture and then affirm. And the weeks go by, and not a word gets written. Argh! Soon enough I will have to take the plunge. Soon. Just let me read Chapter 2. And finish two other vital books. And check on one more key fact. And then, and then! And then perhaps I shall begin.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.