Episode 44—Philip Gerard on the ‘Thrill’ Creative Research

 

Author Philip Gerard

By Brendan O’Meara

So in a new segment for the podcast, potentially at least, I’m experimenting with little audio essays about various titles I’ve read and the wisdom gleaned from those pages.

It could be from a podcast guest’s book, or maybe not, but the point is to insert some sonic joy into your ears in well under ten minutes.

It can’t hurt to try, right?

Which brings me to Philip Gerard’s The Art of Creative Research: A Field Guide for Writers. The book pulses with curious energy and equips the writer with the tools to cull and curate information. Like a field guide for a series of hikes, this magnificent title leads you through the vast wealth of information and stories out there for the picking.

Just feel the love and joy coming from the pages when Gerard writes:

I love getting in my car in the predawn darkness, watching the dashboard glow blue and silver and red as I turn the ignition, feel the neighborhood still all around me.

They’re all asleep, my neighbors, and I’m awake and stealing away on an adventure.

It gets at the pure fun of the process. Writing need not be a torturous or perilous pursuit. Because inside all those delightful artifacts lie something buried, something to be unearthed.

He writes:

If I am good enough to make it happen.

And I love it that sometimes I am good enough to make it happen.

I love the moment when someone tells me something he or she never intended to say, the look of wonder and discovery in their eyes, the smiling tears of memory, the clutch in the throat that carries all the story you’ll ever need to hear. The pang of good-bye, leaving a stranger who has just confided his most precious secret, hoping you will honor it—I don’t love that, I never get used to that. Yet afterward, how I do cherish the memory of.

The Art of Creative Research stems from what all writers have—whether they know it or not—and that’s curiosity. Gerard writes:

At the highway rest stops, I can’t help but wonder where everyone else has come from and where they are bound: the chic couple in the red convertible sports car, the rowdy family with all the wild kids pouring out of the camper, the pensive loner hurrying back from the restroom with his hands jammed tight in his windbreaker pockets. I want to get in all their cars with them and go someplace else, anywhere but here, and find out why: Why are they going? What’s waiting at the end of the road?

What dissolves away are the illusions of making it big as a writer, the questions of money and fame, and what is left in the stockpot is a love of narrative, story, making something grounded and reaped from the time you spent buried in research.

He writes:

It’s a lot of work, and it takes some gumption, but it sure is a thrill.

For more about Philip’s book and his process, be sure to listen to Episode 38 of the #CNF Podcast and be sure to pick up his book at your library or at your local bookseller.

Please subscribe to the podcast, my monthly reading list newsletter, and leave a kind review. Thanks so much for listening.

Episode 38—Philip Gerard and The Art of Creative Research: Passions, Daydreaming, and Daring

Author Philip Gerard, one of the most interesting men in the world.

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables:

“You’ve got to be daring. You’ve got to have that unshakable belief that ‘You know what? Somebody’s gonna publish a book someday. It might as well be me.'” —Philip Gerard

“I don’t really have hobbies. I have passions.” —Philip Gerard

“If I do this enough days in a row, probably I’m gonna get there.” —Philip Gerard

“I found that if I hang with them long enough, they would often tell me something interesting.” —Philip Gerard

“I began realizing there was a significant amount of work that wasn’t on the page, but if you did it, it would be on the page.” —Philip Gerard

“My problem is I’m interested in everything.” —Philip Gerard

“At a certain point the journey is over and you know it.” —Philip Gerard

That enough tweetable quotes for you? 

Philip Gerard, writer and teacher, joined me for 90 minutes of energizing talk about the craft. I had so much fun and left this conversation fired up to pursue a bunch of stories I’ve got stuffed in the drawer.

The Art of Creative Research (University of Chicago Press, 2016) is a deep dive into what it takes to write authentically across all genres. Bottom line: You need to do serious research. 

You need to walk the hills, feel the gun kick back on your shoulder, put on the latex gloves in the archival rooms, and swim in this stuff. 

So what are you waiting for? Get researching! Wait, wait, wait! Listen to this first, then go get your hands dirty.

My Top Writing Books

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Writing books may as well be writing procrastination books. There’s a big market in writing procrastination and writers capitalize on it. That’s the dream of every writer: to get to a point where he/she is reputable enough to write a book on writing. He/she knows there’s a new generation of saps looking to put off their writing by learning a new tip from the incumbent writer emeritus. I’m a sap that says, “No, it’s continuing education.” Which it is, but there’s no better way to become more skilled than to put the pencil to the paper.

There really is only one tip: write like it’s a job (because if you’re serious about it, it is). Or, more bluntly, write like a mofo. (How great is Cheryl Strayed?)

Hemingway didn’t even know he wrote a book on writing, which makes his one of the very best. It’s titled: Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Edited by Larry W. Phillips. One my faves. Tons of great nuggets from letters to friends. He had a social network where they shared tools, tricks, and insights. They helped each other.

Stephen King doesn’t get enough credit for being a great writer (Have you read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption?). His book On Writing is excellent. Buy it.

The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton is a series of interviews with great narrative journalists. They talk about writing and reporting. I reference it all the time.

Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools is the best of his many books on writing. If you can get ahold of his laminated Writing Tools Quick Sheet, do it. It’s like being an NFL head coach holding a laminated card like Andy Reid.

Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd is a wonderful collaborative book between a writer/editor tandem. I reviewed it here.

Lastly, Creative Nonfiction by Philip Gerard lays out what it takes to do great reporting and writing to make a work of nonfiction read like great fiction.

Well, that’s it. I hope these books help. Got some others? Throw them in the comments.

Honorable Mention:

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

Glamour of Grammar, Roy Peter Clark

How to Write Short, Roy Peter Clark

Help! for Writers, Roy Peter Clark