I hate research. It’s the number one aspect of writing that keeps me from actually putting pen to paper. The worst thing is, all this stress resides solely in my head. While I sit and write, I keep asking myself, “Do you know enough about this?” While I sit and research, I keep asking myself, “What if you’ll find something new and story-changing in the next hour?” And while I’m doing neither, I keep asking myself “Shouldn’t you be writing?” It’s madness, all of it. I seem hardwired to seek out all information that’s not relative to my life and to avoid any other bits of knowledge… but you all know I’m pursuing an English degree, so that revelation shouldn’t surprise you.
When I say for Trudge-On Tuesday, “I finished the research for the novel I’m going to write,” the sentence exits my mouth hard if I speak it out loud, like it’s a brick I’m throwing up into my lap. I don’t consider myself “done” researching, and I’ll still have to look things up even two, three, four drafts down the line. The obvious solution to all this is, of course, “Write what you know,” but I know I don’t want to write about another hospital journey, or another time I got kicked out of a feminist club. And even those real-life experiences compel me to scour the Internet for facts before I compose, in the vain attempt to build a shield that can defend my story from criticism.
I’m getting off track. Here’s how I convinced myself (for today, at least) that I could give my Google Bar a rest.
- Only work on the baselines for what you need to know: Whenever you need to, you can google “famous singers from Mexico.” What you can’t get an immediate result for is what Mexican music’s like to dance to, how music influences Mexican life, what roots Mexican music has, etc. You should spend your valuable research time on things that will change the core of your story. Even if you don’t need to know everything about 70s warfare, you should at least know for the purposes of your Cold War Thriller that the Vietnam War did not end well for America.
- Read a book… and only one, if you can get away with it: Emphasis on if. History books and memoirs can be great sources of information, ones you can read without worrying about eyestrain. But you can still fall in the same pitfalls the Internet set, where you weigh yourself down with such an impressive workload that you can’t get out of the pit. Find a brick that elaborates on several details, and refer to it as much as you can.
- Set a time limit: “But what’s a good time limit? What if I deprive myself from vital information because I stop after 10 hours?” Who cares?
Look, the reason research is a problem for me is that I find rebuilding stories from the ground-up to be an immense hassle. For the rest of you? If you find in the middle of authoring your masterwork that you still don’t know enough about walruses? Just schedule another hour of research for tomorrow. Set your own schedule today. You should’ve had this written yesterday.
- Focus on select questions: This is how I get through the long Internet hours myself (as if I don’t spend days on there at a time, insincere lol). I had a few questions (“What’s the name for this one job I imagined?” “What’s the template timeline for a presidential campaign?”), and I focused my time on answering those queries to the best of my ability. Generally, all I need in terms of research is an outline; for the rest, see point #1.
- Finally— most readers won’t notice: It’s mind over matter, and what matters is that most people won’t mind. Tell a good story before you tell a good history paper.
I still look for ways to make this part of the writing journey bearable, including “Let go of your fears concerning accuracy.” How do you research for a story, fellow reader? Do you have fun with it? I genuinely want to know… although if I request this question so I can write a story, I’ll likely dread the day I asked.