Burying Writing Beneath the Research

Research and Writing, Part 2

I spent a long time researching where to look for that headstone The cemetery name I was given didn’t exist. Eventually, as mentioned in my previous post, I found it, but only after I went out and physically looked for it.

With a story in mind, we hunt for books and websites with relevant information and we begin reading. Before we know it, the library is closing (or our families are hovering at our shoulder, begging for dinner) and we reluctantly set aside our research to resume later.

And resume it we do. There’s something about research that is addictive. There is always just one more reference to check; one more page to read; one more website to discover and devour. Anyone will tell you that you can never have too much knowledge. We know learning begins the day we’re born and doesn’t stop until the day we die. (And, who knows, there may be more to learn after death. Gabrielle hasn’t shared that tidbit yet.)

Persistence is a good trait for writers.

I draw your attention to that bold word. Here it is again: writers. As writers we need to be persistent. While getting all the facts accumulated is important, if all we do is study facts and never get around to writing the story they are meant to support, we’re not writers, we’re perpetual students.

  • Make a list of the specific information you need, and stop searching when you reach that point. One value of research is getting you in the mood… putting yourself in the authentic environment of your characters. You’ll collect far more details than you’re likely to use. Keep notes, or make a list, datebase or spreadsheet of your source material so you can return to it for specific data later if it’s needed.
  • At what point do you put aside the reference material and begin to write? Long before you think you’re ready! For some stories I’d say before you even begin the research. (I know, I know, you think that’s heresy.) Too much information can squelch creativity and bog down the story. There is a story quite apart from the details of its setting, Write it and leave sticky markers like inuksuit to help you find your way back to add researched details later during revisions. Some writers insert a”jkjk” as a marker, easily located with the wordprocessor’s search function.

If you have the luxury of making research trips to the countries of your stories, by all means go for it. (Mmm… Tuscany. Alaska. Ireland. Sigh.) Take a holiday and immerse yourself in the culture and locale. Unearth the details you need. When your holiday is over you will return to begin writing the story.

That’s essentially what the rest of us must do. Our holiday will be between the covers of travel books and language dictionaries, watching geographic videos, studying history books and innumerable websites. But like a holiday, that part of the trip must come to an end so the real work can begin.

If we aspire to be authors we must beware of becoming perpetual researchers.


How do you create a balance between your researching and writing?