Knowledge Gained is Never Time Wasted
Except when it turns out to be unnecessary info dumping.
No, I'm kidding. I'm always grateful when I have a chance to learn new things. Luckily, as a writer, I get many opportunities to research all sorts of subjects that normally would not come up in my life. In considering some of the logistics of having a fantasy realm set in what amounts to our medieval era, I picked up a lot of trivia.
For example, I am now fairly familiar with the process of cheese-making. Why? Because in the rough draft of "Of Gryphons and Other Monsters," the book began with Taryn starting her day, and grabbing some cheese to take on sheep watch. I wrote it, and then I sat back and thought, "Huh. How did people keep cheese before refrigeration? I know they had it. But how?"
The short answer is that old cheeses were either very hard (think like a cheddar) or they were soft and very salty (sort of like feta.) A hard rind came from turning a cloth wrapped wheel of compressed cheese curds continually, keeping the moisture at the center and... I could go on. I did go on. Did you know that curds and whey used to be separated using rennet found in the belly of calves (specifically male calves because females were needed to keep producing dairy) that had yet to be weaned from their mother's milk? Which goes hand-in-hand with the popularity of veal. Did you know that use of the milk from a cow (or sheep) used to depend highly on the season and therefor how rich the milk would have been?
I inhaled every Ruth Goodman documentary available on youtube, from "Tudor Monastery Farm," to "Tales from the Green Valley." I learned about how homes/road walls were built, and where the bathrooms were. I learned about what people ate and how they took care of sickness. I learned how people made fishing poles and fishing line, and how they cooked food or stored it for later, (credit for that goes a lot to the Townsends youtube channel.)
I put all of that into the book, at some point or other and then in the subsequent edits? I took almost all of it out. Because the reader doesn't actually need to know those things in an action/adventure/fantasy novel, and it slows the pace down. It's enough that I know why the cheese is hard, and that I know that pigs can be used to clear fields for farming (and how cool is that???)
You know, a lot of people will tell you that when you're writing you shouldn't let yourself wander off down the internet rabbit hole. They'll say that you need to keep yourself strictly on task and if you have to research something you must save it all for Designated Research Time ™ or else.
I'd disagree with that. Obviously if you have an important deadline then scheduling your time is important, but I think a good portion of the joy of writing comes from those little jaunts, and a great deal of inspiration can come from them as well. The only thing to remember is that these pieces of knowledge should just be hinted at, to lend authenticity to your writing. Your writing shouldn't read like a history book or an instructional manual... Unless that's what you're aiming for.
This blog post was made after a suggestion that I write about some of the things that I learned about while writing my first book. If you have any questions about that, or anything else feel free to leave them in the comments.