Research: Sometimes It Means Getting Your Hands Dirty

Boiling over during a kitchen experiment.

When we get ready to write something new, writers research. We do Google searches on our topic. We look for first hand experience. We scroll through photos. But sometimes what we need to do is get our hands dirty, figuratively if not literally.

Year ago, I was working a rummage sale when I saw an item that looked a lot like a plunger except that the handle was a bit short and the “plunger” part wasn’t rubber but metal. It was an antique washer. One brand was called the Ready Washer.

This week I’ve learned what it would be like to use. My washer died and the pandemic has really slowed down deliveries. This means that I carry a bucket of dirty laundry outside, add a dab of soap, fill it with the hose, and start plunging. Boy Scouts sometimes wash clothes like this so I knew it would work but I’ve also discovered just how much work it is.

I’ve even been making improvements. My bucket now sits on a cinder block so I’m not bent over so far. My next addition would be a wringer. And I have to say that I suddenly understand why people historically had so few clothes and wore everything multiple times.

This was not intential research. But I have gotten my hands dirty before in the name of research. I’ve taken an axe to a tree. I’ve woven cloth. I can make bread, enchilada sauce, and pizza from scratch. Wow and wonderful. Fruit compote and grape pie? So not worth the trouble for either one.

It is easy enough to read up on a lot of things but especially if you are writing about a child character who is doing something for the first time, maybe you should give it a try yourself.

You will learn exactly which muscles ache, how something feels in your hand, and the joy of something hard coming together. Or the agony of watching your hard work refuse to jell, bubble up and over the side of the pot, or otherwise go awry.