I had a run-in with AT&T customer service last night. Since getting service with them, three years ago, I’ve logged about 30 hours of talk time with their tech support line. The details are unimportant to this story, so suffice to say they made a lot of mistakes with my service, and are still fixing them. Yet last night, while I was on the phone with them, I realized that, given all the time working with my outdated, unserviceable 2Wire modem/router, I actually knew more about what was going wrong with the piece than the person on the other side of the line. I know a lot of people “know better” than the expert, but in this situation I genuinely believe I knew more about it than she did, and diverted spending 100’s of dollars to do so.

This isn’t about bashing AT&T. It’s about research. Anecdotal evidence over, I now move on to the moral of this story. Learn as much as you can about something. About everything. In this world of technical advances, social networking and computer programming, you don’t need to be an expert to be knowledgeable. The computer is this generation’s muscle car.

Kinda. /adjusts nerd glasses

I’m not talking about disregarding specialists such as (writer alert!) cover artist, jacket construction, and graphics printing for your work. I’m talking about understanding everything it is you do, even if it’s just lame router work.

I put in the time to learn and understand all I could about my 2Wire with AT&T. I even went to Radio Shack and Best Buy to check out alternatives. In the end, I saved a lot of money by being smart about it. Just like going to a mechanic and spending 500 bucks on a refurbished starter (almost did this), having a working knowledge of what you’re messing with is a godsend.

This extends everywhere, but particularly to writing: people-watching (a common topic in this blog), studying unique “commonplace” situations at work (like, I dunno, how Dick’s Sporting Goods store policy is to wave at a shoplifter walking out the door than actually try to stop him, for instance), and of course researching weak areas in your understanding of what some of your characters do: a runner sometimes has achy knees. A demonologist is an actual profession, and not just a hobby, if you know how to market yourself. UHaul doesn’t always have trucks available for moving. Etc.

You’d think this is obvious, but I know of too many writers, friends, coworkers that truly don’t give two cents about what’s going on around them. They simply let it happen and are none-the-wiser for it. In the fifteen, sixteen, seventeen hundreds, the educated were truly brilliant people: an average intellect, back then, would put most intellects today to shame. They were worldly people. I’m not saying to try to be a scholar, but at least learn as much as you can about a topic. I see no downside to this way of working. Unless you’re OCD, ADD/ADHD or some other adventurous type, and prefer to stay away from it.

This is my inner Republican talking, I guess, but the more you suffer through, and the more self-sufficient you are, the more successful you’ll be, whether you’re a roofer, an engineer, or a writer.


P.S. I might be offline for a week or three, because I’m moving to StL and am doing so by the seat of my pants.


3 thoughts on “Research!

  1. We have the same policy at my store. Weird.

    I concur with this post. Especially with the people-watching and being more aware of human behavior. I think it’s fair to say a lot of writer’s write about…well, people. And where they fail is often having their characters do or say unbelievable things. And I assume that’s often because the writer doesn’t necessarily know how someone would react to a certain situation so they either make it up or have them do something silly just to progress the story.

    The more genuine the characters, the better they connect to the reader, the better the writer you are. You ever think about writing as an intricate exercise in psychology?

    Oh, and good luck with your move! Sending positive vibes.

    • Thanks for the vibes.

      Writing as a psychological exercise is an interesting idea. Given my family life, though, I can’t see it being more of an exercise than putting them together in one room. Simultaneously, I can’t imagine a time when my writing didn’t reflect a psychological/philosophical question I have floating around in my head.
      I know you people watch, too. It’s a good pasttime.

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