Hunting Facts

librariansI’m having a serious problem. One that was shared by C.S. Lewis.

Unfortunately, it has reached its greatest intensity as I am striving to meet the deadline for my doctoral dissertation.

The problem is one that should be simple to remedy, yet I’m crippled by it. The solution is so simple that it is almost embarrassing to admit what it is.

But, confession is good for the soul. (That’s not a biblical verse, by the way, in case you were wondering. Nevertheless, it’s quite true.)

So, here’s my confession. I love to conduct research.

The internet is tailor made for a lifelong student like me; I can follow any avenue that piques my interest from one corner of the world wide web to the other.

And, I do.

That’s the problem, of course. I always over-research the things that I write. And this dissertation is no different. I have so much research—good stuff—to cram into it that I’m dreading hearing back from my advisor . . . who now has the first three chapters in hand.

So, how does this plight resonate with the life of C.S. Lewis? Well, not in the sense of my possessing his brilliant intellect and memory. Lewis had no need of the internet to sort out all of the material he had studied.

Still, the two of us do share one important character trait. He too, was an inveterate collector of information.

In his anthology of George MacDonald’s writings, Lewis confesses his pleasure at conducting research. He says it in this fashion:

“I am a don, and “source-hunting” (Quellen-forschung) is perhaps in my marrow.”

Alas, my marrow is filled with the same unquenchable hunger.

Considering Your Own Writing

It may be that some Mere Inkling readers share this passion for pursuing knowledge for its own sake.

It can certainly be argued that it is an important facet of writing. But there are other aspects of writing, and it is quite natural for different elements of the process to appeal to different individuals.

Perhaps you prefer the initial brainstorming, daydreaming or idea phase of a writing project.

Or, as we have discussed, researching information may be the high point of your writing efforts.

This typically leads to outlining, in various shades of detail. Some writers prefer to proceed without any structure in mind. (This is usually not a good idea when writing nonfiction.) I like outlining. I find establishing a logical structure satisfying work, probably because I’m NTJ.

There are, of course those who honestly love the writing itself, especially when they are in the zone and the creativity is really flowing. Frankly, for me the writing is work. (That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the feeling that flashes when you come upon the perfect word or phrase.)

And, although I’m a brutal editor of my own work, and find sharpening an article rewarding work, I must admit I am a little surprised when I encounter a writer who enjoys this phase of the process the most of all.

Then there is sharing or submitting a manuscript for publication. Most writers are a little nervous about this, but some find it exhilarating.

Once someone has published a book, it is now normal for the bulk of responsibility for its promotion to rest upon their own shoulders, as the author. I’m still waiting to meet someone who claims that this is their favorite phase of the writing cycle.

Back Again to the Oxford Don

Lewis’ writing is so enjoyable that I want to close with a longer excerpt from the introduction.

C.S. Lewis’ high regard for MacDonald is well known. This anthology of his work was a tribute to him, in the hopes of introducing many more readers to his work. This book is insightful into the hearts of both men. After all, the editor’s choice of quotations cannot help but reveal much about them too.

In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation.

Honesty drives me to emphasize it. And even if honesty did not— well, I am a don, and “source-hunting” (Quellen-forschung) is perhaps in my marrow. It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought— almost unwillingly, for I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions— the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.


There is no authoritative step-by-step list of the writing process. Some sources call the idea stage “prewriting.” Others break writing down into two parts: “drafting” and “revising.” Some consider editing primarily to be “proofreading,” while you can see from post that I merge the revising and proofreading into what I call “editing.” There are various other structures that are used to describe the writing process. My suggestion is to go with what works for you.

MacDonald’s works are now in the public domain. You can download a free copy of Phantastes here. There is a LibriVox (audio) recording available at the same site.

10 thoughts on “Hunting Facts

  1. I think that in the writing process, I’m coming to realize (young as I am) how much I need to hammer out a good structure for an idea before really diving into the “writing” itself. Unless I at least have a good mental sketch of the “skeleton” of an essay, the “bones” on which the rest of the paragraphs and quotes can hang onto, then it’s easy for me to lose direction a bit once I’ve gotten a few paragraphs in. I enjoyed this post! One of these days I need to read George MacDonald.

    1. I’ve always liked the skeletal analogy for writing. And your comment just helped me visualize how it also relates to crippled works that began with congentital defects…

      Do check MacDonald out… he is a joy to some and an oddity to most.

  2. Hello Brother,

    Research is my least favorite part of novel writing. With that said, I am learning how important realia is to a fiction novel. It is the skeleton on which the animated character gains real substance. So, you are on the right track. We all have our passion and then we work on the things that need a little more TLC.

    I just found a C.S. Lewis collection with Screwtape, The Four Loves, etc. You found your Lewis niche where I feel a calling to Geeks and Nerds. Cool how the Lord works, right?

    In Christ,


  3. cherifields

    May God bless you with wisdom and skill as you carve out a sculpture from the block of research you’ve collected!
    In my own writing I enjoy most of the process, but find there are a few times my overall emotion is dread and overwhelm:
    *The initial dive into research can be terrifying if I’m not sure the information I need is available to me, or would require the sifting ability of someone more astute than Google.
    *As you’re experiencing, how to hone the wealth of detail colected into something coherent and interesting can be daunting.
    *Getting the copy of my work back from an editor always requires the greatest fortitude. I often wait until I feel especially loved and accepted before opening it up.
    Of course, all these things bring the greatest satisfaction (outside of praise from a reader) when things turn out well- and things almost always turn out well.

    1. Thank you for the blessing. (I eagerly welcome blessings and prayers, knowing both are tangible realities…)

      I am happy that your writing efforts bear visible fruit. Actually, writing invariably provides a more concrete result than does the other primary occupation of a pastor (preaching).

      1. cherifields

        True. My dad does very little “preaching”, but spends his days helping people with their mental health. He takes particular pleasure in concrete work like fence building and home repairs because you can step back and *see* you did something!

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