May 19, 2017

A Writer's Search History, Revisited

Last month I noted on Twitter: "My search history suggests I have small children and a drug problem. Happily, neither is true." Writing leads to a lot of internet searches, sometimes weirdly specific, often on topics that are odd or disturbing either individually or in combination.

Four years ago, I put together a post highlighting some search queries that had featured in my recent research. When I looked back at that post -- once I finished suppressing my panic about how it's four years later and I'm again, still, working on same novel -- I was amused (mixed with an additional dash of panic) to see many similarities with searches from the past few months.

→ Previously on Lisa's search history, I was seeking concussion information, and just recently I looked up "concussion check" and variations. As it happens, a different character is the subject of concern this time. Within the plot, this all makes perfect sense, but maybe I need to examine why my novel has a motif of head injuries. Related searches: "head wound blood", "bleeding from chin".

→ Last time, I wanted to know about the smell of vodka, and I didn't end up using the information. A couple of months ago, I put something in a scene about the narrator smelling tequila, but I wasn't sure it made sense and ultimately took it out. It doesn't appear I did any searching this time around, so I must have done some real world investigation, meaning the research didn't all go to waste.

→ In the category of "of course you can find that on YouTube", I recently searched "sound of a baby burping" and watched numerous videos, all in the name of essential research. More baby queries: "how long does it take a baby to drink a bottle", "when can baby roll over", "older child sharing room with baby". Incidentally, the baby and older sibling I was writing about are part of a brand new family of secondary characters introduced to the novel in this draft, since I didn't have enough people to revise already.

→ My previous search post discussed my brief desire to explore motel curtains for some reason. This year, my decor needs were about "bathroom tile walls". I'm reminded of a long-ago commiseration with a writing buddy regarding first drafts overly focused on describing wall and floor coverings.

→ "election day 2026" is the sort of search I do when I suddenly consider that the part of my novel that takes place in the future also takes place in early November. Election Day will be before the novel starts, and of course it's a midterm, so there shouldn't be a glaring absence if the characters don't mention it. Most likely, I went through this same panic cycle years ago.

→ "california shrubbery" is the sort of search I do when I suddenly doubt that an extremely small detail is realistic. I'm imagining a row of bushes in front of a house, which I think of as a very common yard feature, but what I'm picturing is a childhood home in Massachusetts, so do houses have those here? Several times a week, I walk around my neighborhood, but I guess I immediately forgot about this query, because I still haven't paid any attention to the question while outside my (unshrubberied) house.

→ A large number of my searches are about San Jose and environs, and I spend quite a bit of time studying Google Maps and Street View for locations that are only a few miles from where I'm writing. I'll be following up with supplementary fieldwork to add more details to scenes that required searches on "san jose bike trails" and "sjc watch airplanes" (that is, where to watch planes take off and land at the San Jose airport). I'm less eager to get firsthand experience with "crime map san jose". Other local searches: "half moon bay fog", "most common jobs in san jose".

→ Another large portion of my searches cause Google to worry about me. Whenever I need a little more information about depression and addiction, I know to expect suicide hotline and counseling resources alongside my results. These have actually stopped showing up lately, possibly because my search patterns suggest I'm someone with a professional rather than personal interest. Sample searches: "what do people say when they're depressed", "how to stage an intervention".

→ "novel people talking" happened during one of my periodic moments of believing there must be something wrong with my novel if it's mostly just a bunch of people talking. The search results aren't relevant to this recurring panic, but I got over it.

While looking through my search history, I noticed that my non-writing queries provide a pretty good picture of the rest of my interests. The majority of my searches fall into these categories:

→ Things referenced in books I'm reading that I'm not familiar with or want to know more about. Recently: "cindy sherman", "mooli paratha", "velvet revolution".

→ Information about how to get through an area of whatever video game I'm playing. Currently it's Fallout 4, and I needed help with such life-or-death issues as "save kent connolly" and "kidnapping at oberland station".

→ Titles of TV shows and movies, names of actors, and debates that arise while watching, such as "do laura linney and helen hunt look alike".

→ Names of politicians, information about bills in Congress, and questions about news stories or how the government operates ("how is each congress numbered").

→ Periodic bursts of searches for knitting techniques (I've probably looked up "wrap and turn" dozens of times) and cooking issues (ditto "how many tbsp in a cup").

I remain utterly grateful to the internet for making so many types of research so easy. Life must have been a real bummer before the days of instant answers to every burning question, like whether anyone has already used the palindromic title "levon a novel".

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Lisa Ko admits, Not Finishing My Novel Would Have Ruined My Life: "By the end of the year, I had more than 100 pages and two main characters. I figured I'd finish the book in another year or so, and then I would send it to the agent whose business card I had held onto through nine apartments and two cross-country moves. This plan quickly proved to be delusional, or maybe just wildly na├»ve. Three years into writing the novel, I stopped labeling Word documents with names like 'novel-final.doc' and 'novel-finalFINAL.doc' and 'novel-FORFUCKSSAKEFINAL.doc.'"

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