Day 11: You Can Have Your Cake…if You Research it First

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 11: How much of your writing time is purely research?

The amount of research I do depends entirely on what I’m writing. And yes, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I do conduct research for just about everything—and often generous amounts, at that! Anything nonfiction—articles, essays, op-ed pieces, etc.—typically benefits from statistics, facts, and reference to other existing accounts. I often offset blog entries, and sometimes even poems with epigraphs or some other manner of quotation.

I can easily spend half my time doing research. I’m reminded of something my fourth grade teacher once said when he was teaching us to draw from observation with pen and ink: you should spend as much time studying your subject as you do reproducing it. I think that’s a good rule of thumb when you want your writing to be convincing.

For short stories I have sought information on everything from wedding cake baking and gambling laws, to architecture, Rachmaninoff, and Greek mythology. For my novel in progress I have already read two relevant nonfiction books on a particular science topic (though my lips are sealed as to what!) and have two more to read in the queue. And I’m only on chapter three!

I wrote a full short story based on this Rachmaninoff piece.

I guess you could say I also do a handful of preemptive research. I peruse the news frequently (The Guardian is my favorite source) and keep a running document of interesting, unusual things that might spark a story or feed into a book somehow. Among the intriguing things I’ve found: that tiger shark embryos fight each other in their mother’s womb; that, using an internet tool called Tor (short for “the onion router”) one can browse the internet anonymously and untraceably; that the brain can be tricked into remembering things that didn’t happen and that we have the ability to implant false memories in a person’s head.

Fortunately, when I’m passionate about an idea I get easily swept up in it and don’t mind all the extra research work. On the contrary, as somebody who loves learning I think it’s wonderful that writing urges us to learn about and connect with so many new things the average person doesn’t. We writers are a well-rounded bunch, no? Our work keeps us hungry and keeps life interesting.

What range of things have you studied up on in order to help your writing?

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