novel writingWriting Fear Free

Writing Fear Free: Research

Research too can become a stumbling
 block for the aspiring novelist.
 You must find the balance between
adequate research and overdoing it.
Last week, I ended my Writing Fear Free post with the hint that after doing (or not doing) your outline, you are ready to start writing.
Well, yes and no.
Research is a vital aspect of the novel writing process, and it must be done if you aspire to a logical, believable plot, but beware. Information gathering can become a stumbling block to completing your first draft. In general, I agree with the concept in No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty, who advises taking seven days, and only seven days, to complete the planning phase, and that includes research.

Now, this may seem skimpy, especially if your manuscript depends heavily on research, but this is not the sum total of all your study for your book. This is just the limit in the planning phase.

Remember: the goal is to finish the manuscript. Everything you do at this point should be in support that goal. Making it perfect comes later. Obviously, you want to have a good understanding of your subject, but attempting to become an expert will likely lead you down a path of self-doubt and procrastination. You will start researching minutiae and questioning every aspect of your plot, and this will stall your writing.

It may sound backward. Yes, I did a good amount of information gathering before I began writing Charlotte Collins, but I did the bulk of the detailed research after the first draft was completed. This had the benefit not only of preventing me for using research as a procrastination tool, but it also gave me a specific list of things to look up. I had funneled my research into a manageable amount.

And while I’m on the subject of research, I must say a word about sources. As an editor, I often work with scholarly texts, and I am flummoxed by the number of “scholars” who actually attempt to cite Wikipedia. Now, I’m not saying that Wikipedia doesn’t have its uses, but when your reputation is on the line, you want to trust peer-reviewed texts, not changeable online sources that can be altered by any idiot with a keyboard and a fiber optic connection.

So take your week to research and plan, but that’s it. Keep a list of questions and use primary sources or those written by recognized experts in the field.

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