Oh My G-d

The recent Santa Fe International Literary Festival was a hit. The interviewers and authors were on their game. One remarkable thing we heard was the amount of time each writer put into researching their books. David Grann spent eight years writing Flowers of the Killer Moon.

It took Anthony Doerr ten years to research WWII and write All the Light We Cannot See.

And Kai Bird (on the left) with partner Martin Sherman spent ten years researching and another five writing American Prometheus, the book that became the film Oppenheimer.

We don’t suggest spending years researching a talk, but it’s worth diving deep into your subject matter. You’ll have too much material, and like writers and film directors, have to “kill your darlings.”

Grann’s wife, after reading his 20,000 word description of 18th century shipbuilding moaned, “Oh, my g-d.” Grann cut it to five paragraphs and dropped the rest into his “Oh, my g-d file.” That new book on Captain Cook, The Wager, is now a compelling read. Grann defended his research as necessary to exhibit the gravitas that this knowledge brings.

Tasty bits and anecdotes can fill your presentations with memorable content. But be willing to distill your material so it’s compelling and serves your intention and audience. Bird found after extensive research that the bomb wasn’t the only hero in his story. It was the trial and persecution of Oppenheimer after detonation of the bomb. The same may happen for you; research opens new terrain and sparks your imagination. Save items in your “Oh, my g-d file” for another day and talk.

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