Guest Blog: One Writer's Take On Research
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Like some writers, the line between “research” and “the things I want to do” is pretty blurry for me. In addition to my day job and writing a YA novel at night, I also volunteer my time to coach a collegiate cycling team with my husband. People who know me weren’t surprised to hear that the main character in my books joins her high school’s cycling team.
As coaches, we spend a lot of time with our team. In the fall, we do endurance training with the riders. As the season approaches, we start to do more speed-based workouts to prepare for racing. When the season starts in March, we spend eight consecutive weekends at bike races. This means lots of road trips, tons of down time and some high-energy racing. Throughout it all I rely on my trusty notebook to record the things I experience or things that inspire me.
One of the things that intrigues me as a writer is the difference between the men’s and women’s races. The main difference I’ve observed is that the female racers are much friendlier towards each other. By the fourth race weekend, they know everyone’s name, majors, year, where they’re from and whether or not they’re dating someone. The social experience is much less important to the men, who generally spend all their time thinking about the competition. They rarely even talk to guys on other teams. These attitudes came alive in two different conversations I overheard:
This conversation was between two girls on our team. They had previously referred to a girl on another team as “Hammerhead” because her head is large and she bobbed it back and forth as she rode.
Girl 1: “I forgot to tell you:--I saw Hammerhead at a race last week. Her real name is Annie. She’s nice.”
Girl 2: “Do you think we should stop calling her Hammerhead?”
Girl 1: “Probably. We’re friends on facebook now.”
In contrast, this conversation occurred between two guys on our team:
Guy 1: “I can’t stand that kid. He keeps talking to me because we both ride Pinarellos.”
Guy 2: “I don’t like him either. He’s sketchy.”
Guy 1: “Yeah. What a douchebag.”
As part of my research, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with the young women on my team a lot about why they like racing. Some of them like the strategy part of it and others like the feeling of racing because it pushes them in a way that their normal training wouldn’t. I’ve also talked to them about how they feel before a race, which I found is something that is much harder to express. I usually get one- or two-word answers, like “nervous” or “excited” or “that hill is going to kill me.” My sense is that they have trouble expressing themselves because normal pre-competition jitters are magnified in a bike race, where a crash can seriously injure you.
The other thing that my research has taught me is that cycling is a sport that has great beauty and passion. There are regularly random acts of kindness and generosity among the riders.
I have a lot of love for and I hope that in my writing, I’m able to give cycling its due.