Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

Researching vs. writing

It's tempting, having just delivered the first draft of a new book, to plan a little downtime. After all, I began that new book immediately after delivering a draft of Awake in the World, and I've continued editing Awake while writing the new thing. I've earned a little rest! And so I did. A little. But very quickly, for me, rest becomes restless. My momentum flags, and with it, my confidence that I know how to do this work. And so I stopped resting, and began planning the next book I hope to write. 

There's a relatively steady discourse among writers about planning. The common question: Are you a pantser or a plotter? In other words, do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing, or do you meticulously plan your book before typing the first word? I've done both. With Eleanor, I wrote by the seat of my pants, and after twelve or thirteen years, I realized I needed an outline. I made an outline, and miraculously finished the book. Awake and my current project each went through multiple drafts at the outline stage. 

And so that's how I started to approach this new project. I jotted notes in a journal, gathered my research. And it occurred to me, recently, that I have a golden window of time right now: Awake is basically complete; the new book is off with my editor; and I don't currently have a deadline. Now, I could spend that window of time planning, after which I'd find my deadlines risen from the dead, and my window for writing firmly closed. Or: I could throw the planning portion to the wind, and start writing. 

I've been digging backwards through much of Austin Kleon's blog recently, reading his years of thoughts about creativity and work and productivity and such things. And in this five-year-old post, I found a couple of interesting quotes:

Email and social media and games are obvious distractions. In my experience, the more subtle threat ... comes via the eminently reasonable belief that you’re not ready to start writing, because you haven’t finished your research yet.
— Steven Johnson


There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing.
— David McCullough

This haphazard idea that I have for my next project is firmly rooted in my own life, in experiences that I've had in the last twenty years. There's really not too much research required here. All the source material is already tucked away in my head. Maybe this is a project I can simply begin to write, and let the revision process—much later—solve the problems I'm sure to introduce into the text whether I research or not. 

(A footnote: Steven Johnson's quote comes from "Research As You Go," and David McCullough's from this interview.)

Beets, for the stew

Analog desk achieved