Friday, May 14, 2010

Research or Write

As a former magazine writer, I'm all about research. But believe it or not, before my second try at college I hated writing and despised research. But when I was taking my classes to become an athletic trainer I had to do lots of research. In one such case, I was tasked with doing a case study on a Stanford football player. He'd had a neck injury and surgery in November and recovered quickly enough to start spring practice. He went on to become a NFL player for 7 years, as a right guard and eventually center.

What does this have to do with research? In the research I did for the case study, I found that his recovery wasn't the norm for his type of injury. I was fascinated with what I learned. And my work was so thorough that my professor submitted my case study for publication in Physician & Sports Medicine magazine. From that moment on, I was hooked on research. And not just for magazine articles either.

The research I did for Crafts Business Magazine helped me to grow my small business into a 6-figure income in just 3 years. Yes, I researched topics I was interested in, then queried the magazines I loved. I even wrote an article about shipping cooled semen for breeding purposes, when I was thinking of breeding my mare to a horse in California. I wanted to know about something for myself, so I researched it and was able to sell the related article. I had even gotten seasoned enough that I could sell an article on spec.

But now, with writing fiction, I see research completely different. I see it as an excuse to not write. I mean, hey, I was writing 1500-2500 words, I could crank an article out in an afternoon and then email it for deadline. So I researched until the last minute. With fiction I have no deadline, except a self-imposed one. (really, who keeps those?)

So I've had to treat research differently. Also I'm researching things like the adverse affects of using Meth, and how to murder someone using the mercury from an old thermometer. (ask me about that last one, it's crazy interesting and scary) Are throw away cell phones really not traceable? Don't think I'll be using what I learn for use in my real life.  I just keep researching and researching, and I have binders full of notes, but nothing actually WRITTEN.

The attack I use now is one I learned from a wonderful author from South Africa, Cherry Adair. Just write the damn thing. Highlight the places where the subject really needs some researching, then keep writing. Oh, and then, keep writing some more. When you are in the rewrite process, that's when it's time to pull out the Wikipedia (I'm kidding) and do your research. Research the crap out of it, because now you have a finished novel, script, whatever. It's finished!!! No excuses. Now do the research to keep yourself from looking like a dummy.

The great thing about this process? You have finished your novel, script, play and have saved yourself a crap ton of time by not researching for hours on end. Not to mention, you'll have more specific items to research and not have a bunch of facts you don't need and won't use. And you can move onto the next writing project. Oh, yeah, ain't it great.

This approach may not be right for everyone, but it works for me. And I love doing research. As with all advice/ideas in writing, take what works for you and leave the rest. Researching after writing works for me!

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