It’s a simple question. Until you think about yesterday…and this last week. And all that you now know about the state of the world, spread of the new virus and standings of your favorite candidate in the Democratic primaries. Maybe you are no longer sure that more knowledge and more learning are always good and useful. In fact, perhaps you are becoming aware of the need to manage knowledge.
Strange phrase isn’t it? More on that in just a bit.
Like many of us insatiably curious humans, knowledge-wisdom- was something I pursued with a vengeance, aspiring not just to know, but to understand, to see. Therefore I write about that elusive pursuit, a lot. And learned, somewhere along the years of formal education to apply, analyze, but also to question, what I studied…increasingly aware of the presence of error, bias and prejudice.
In his article, The Downside of Learning, Ozan Varol writes:
My very first blog post was about how I managed to read 65 books in one year. Tracking my progress gave me a profound sense of accomplishment.The Downside of Learning
Two things then revealed themselves in rapid succession.
First, my quest to pack as much knowledge as possible into my day robbed the joy out of the very activities I actually enjoyed. I would speed through amazing books and podcasts in an effort to finish them—instead of slowing down and savoring them. The goal—the very arbitrary goal—of hitting some magical number trumped the purpose of learning.
Which brings me to the second revelation: For me, learning had become an escape from doing.
That last phrase, learning had become an escape from doing, hits home, doesn’t it? At least for me. Because there is an addictive quality to data, information and knowledge. In fact, very little surprise here, a few decades ago, some organizational or systems theorist came up with the DIKW [data, information, knowledge, wisdom] hierarchy or pyramid.
think back to my semi-rhetorical question at the beginning of this post. Maybe the phrase is new, but the truth of it is self-evident. The need to manage knowledge is not just an ongoing challenge for institutions and academicians but for each one of us. Day-by-day. Moment-by-moment. Applying discipline to assure that we effectively use knowledge and are not indulging in escape.
It’s a razor’s edge.
In the books I write, I read numerous books and articles because when I begin a new book about Claudia Procula or St. Paul the Apostle, I know next to nothing. Even locating the resources and books can be daunting- a challenge I face now as I begin my new novel, Plausible Liars. Digging deeply enough into my subject to gain enough understanding without getting lost in the research itself can be tricky. Accumulating the stacks of books, articles and chapters to be read and digested can substitute for the actual writing. How much research do you do for your books? You must have to read and study an immense number…?
Indeed, learning can scarily substitute for doing.
However,after publishing six novels, I am confident that I will get to the really scary part of writing. Nearing the end of the writing of I, Claudia ,I talked about a process I call ‘ceding control of the characters’…essential but “scary as hell.”
It’s not unlike standing in front of a vast audience with a carefully developed talk. And then throwing the perfectly structured lecture in the trash, opening your mouth and speaking from the heart. We’ve mostly likely watched others do this. But few have had the nerve to do it themselves. It requires a kind of trust…an absolute certainty that the spontaneous words spring from a different place. One where truth resides.
For writers of fiction, there is no choice. There is a point where we must stop the research. Give up the laudable but insufficient idea, “I know who she isn’t”- in my case, Claudia, generated by reading other novelists- and let this unique, never before conceived version of Claudia Procula emerge.
It’s scary as hell…walking away from the safety of the research and just letting go.