When to research

I’m about half way through my current WIP. I’ve got to the point where I’ve exhausted much of the research I did way back before I started, or what I researched then is no longer relevant to this part of the story. I suddenly find myself in the position of wondering, is this bit right? Or I discover when I check something that it’s not as easy to find out as I had thought. Or I start digging and end up getting sidetracked with the result that I have nothing much of any relevance to show for an entire day’s work except for a couple of sentences.

I can either allow myself to get sidetracked, because after all you can discover the most amazing things that might turn out to be relevant in the end, or I can be firm and put it aside and carry on with the story.

*dithers*

There is, of course, the theory that you should’t do any research at all until you have finished, so you will then avoid researching irrelevant material, but I don’t think I could do that; the plot could depend on something that was totally wrong.

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3 responses to “When to research

  1. It probably isn’t wise for me to add my inevitable opinions on this topic. I have been halfway through one of my WIPs since 1999 and keep going back and endlessly revising it. I have been sidetracked more times than I can count… but I must admit, with each tangent I’ve followed I know I have improved the story. It now bears little resemblance to my original idea, but my original idea was lacking in so many respects. With the current draft, I tried to force myself to hammer out a basic framework so that I could get to the end and feel as if I’d accomplished something. But I haven’t been able to do that because I keep having new ideas, and each new idea changes the story direction in some subtle but significant way. So now I am trying to be patient with my slow progress and I follow each idea as it comes to me. I know the end result will be good. I have found with writing it is always the best idea to follow your instincts and what you find to be most interesting.

  2. I find that half the time I start writing something of any length is because I’m fascinated by a subject and want to do some research. I love that feeling of walking purposefully into the library with a list of books and topics, wandering the musty stacks, spreading out at a table with my foot-high pile of books. After two or three trips to the library, however, I find that my research troll is sated and I’m ready to write. Generally speaking, I won’t really do any more research after that, unless there’s something I didn’t anticipate needing (“What is the timetable for the Oslo-Bergen train?”, “Which ferry goes from Bergen to Balestrand on a Monday?”, “What’s the name of that folk tale about the girl and the glacier?”). When those kinds of things come up, I take a little detour on the Internet. It’s good to use my brain in a different way, to give the writing muscles a rest for a few minutes.

  3. Helen,
    Following your instincts is good. And sometimes doing so with research can turn up the most amazing things.

    Julie
    I think I’m work in a similar way – but it’s always those niggling little questions that I hadn’t anticpated – where was a particular casualty clearing station in August 1917, or what trains ran from Perth in 1916 etc. Sadly not all the answers are on the Intarweb and I have to trudge back to the library or even the archives.

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