Scratching the Surface in Research and Writing

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Research is one of my favorite aspects of writing. But with my wide interests, I often need to curtail my enthusiasm. Even in fiction, research can be required and I'll often spend time researching and then forget about the writing. Sometimes I find myself getting swept away by the books I am reading for background. Just recently I was reading a biography for a nonfiction piece I was assigned. The subject's life (and the writer's skills) overtook me and I found myself wrapped up in the subject. Although I had been taking notes all along, there were times I found the need to re-read and re-write my notes. I had become so enthralled in my research.
Do you ever feel like you over-research a subject? I tend to find myself diving in, taking pages of notes and tapering my needs as I write a 400-word article.
For my novels, I've tried to under-research with the belief that in doing so, I let the fictional characters drive the action. That doesn't always work well and I find myself looking for more concrete information to drive some of the plot.
To help me keep more focused on my research and stay balanced (not too little research, not too much), I plan prep time.
First, I make an effort to understand the assignment. Even though I may be the person who assigned the research to myself, I spend some time thinking and focusing on the big picture. Then I start to narrow by asking questions. Maybe I have a solo brainstorming session where I just write down all the questions I can think of. I might even poll some friends about what they might want to know. I will also try to spend unhurried discovery time in a library, letting search words guide me. I like to also make use of librarians who still seem to hold many secrets of researching that the Internet cannot seem to touch or ferret out. Then I check out more books than I think I'll need and start reading.
While I try to balance the amount of research I'm doing with the size of the assignment, sometimes I just can't help myself and will read, read, read until that deadline approaches all too quickly.

What about you? Do you love or hate research? What is your strength or weakness when it comes to research?

Happy New Year!

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor...and wannabe librarian.


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