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.


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.

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.

    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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