Question from the e-mail: I write fiction. People in my writers' group keep telling me I have anachronisms and need to do more research. Why? If I'm going to make it up, why do I have to spend hours LOOKING it up???
Answer: Someone once told me they couldn't understand why I wrote fiction, because "it was nothing but lies anyway." This is true. No less an authority than William Faulkner said, "All fiction writers are liars and the best ones tell the best lies."
So it's important to tell a good lie. If you don't do the research, your work can be full of anachronisms that will take the reader right out of your story into her present saying, "What???"
As John Gardiner said, our job as a writer is to create a dream world for your reader and not to allow anything to wake them up. Don’t break the dream by getting things out of place. You must make that dream world real and free of anachronisms or other “wake up calls” as possible. Don’t put up Christmas trees in July without an explanation.
I once paid an obscene amount of money to attend a conference where Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear) was scheduled to speak. She said, "The way to become a good writer was to keep writing. It's hard work, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. There is no substitute for practice." I reviewed my own experience and felt it was considerable, as she proceeded to say that research, too, was important. Just when I was wondering how one could research cave dwellers -- no books back then --she sat down and proved research was important by knapping a perfect Folsom point out of flint.
That's when I realized why her scenes of cave life were so realistic. She really knew how they did things.
I agree with her about practicing your craft. There's no real substitute for doing the work. But research, too, can be important.