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:~: Monday, May 21, 2007 :~:

The Pros and Cons of Researching As You Go

I'm currently smack-dab in the middle of the wip, and as I've been writing by hand while my computer's been in the shop, I've learned something interesting. I am an as-you-go researcher. I generally research a good deal before sitting down to draft the first chapter, but as I go along, I tend to look up information on an I-need-this-now basis. It's worked for me in the past, especially as my characters are careening around cities I know very little about. (Google earth is awesome for this, by the way!)

However, the downside to researching as you go is that you can easily get bogged down in details. I can waste almost an hour looking up street names and bus lines and what store is on the corner of 47th and Main or what route takes you into Amish country in Pennsylvania. And if I need to know the name of the God of Rain in ancient Egypt? A few clicks of the Internet and I can usually find what I need. Of course, I generally find way more than I need, which takes away some of my writing time and can lead to a plethora of unproductive hours of web-surfing.

So now that I have my computer back, I'm trying something new. I have little red XXXs all through my manuscript for things I need to look up. Street names, intersections, places where I need a historical reference. I've set aside writing time and researching time, and instead of wasting hours reading on the net, I've printed out pages of data which I can read whenever I find the time (like when I'm stuck at the pool waiting for my kids to finish their swimming lessons, or when I'm sitting in the car waiting to pick one of them up from an activity). I already know this book is going to take a couple of revisions because the plot is more intricate than I've written before, so I'm trying not to be a perfectionist along the way like I've been in the past.

What about you? Do you research before or after you write that first draft? Or are you a researcher-as-you-go? What researching tricks work for you?



Blogger Lisa Pulliam said...

Generally I'm a research-as-you-go person. I hate leaving unkown things scattered about as I write and if I leave it, my mind will often keep thinking back on it instead of writing. But sometimes I'm just too lazy to care, and those are when I make notes to go back through. But mostly I'm like you - can't keep writing until I find the answer!

4:09 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL. It's hard, isn't it, Lisa? I'm really having to force myself NOT to go back and search for all those miniscule details that slow me down.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

The compulsive plotter than I am, I HAVE to research first. (Big surprise, huh?)

I'd say I do about 85% of my research up front and finish the other 15% as I go. No matter how much prep you've done, things will come up that you won't know. Like Lisa, I HATE leaving XXXs ANYWHERE. I do when I have to, but it eats at the back of my mind.

One of the other reasons I do the research up front is because of an interview I heard Nora Roberts give a long time ago. She said that a lot of her conflict comes directly from her research. I like the organic approach of that and always look for problems inherent in location or character or occupation or history or whatever I'm researching for a particular character/story.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL, J. Compulsive plotter, I am not. But I'm also obsessive about perfection and those little red XXXs are killers for me. I'm training myself to ignore them since I already know this first draft is far from perfect. This is a new method for me, but then it sort of makes sense since each book seems to be a whole different writing process for me as well.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I research before I start, and I always find new plot twists that way, but I have such an obsessive need to be accurate, I double check things throughout and I cannot leave little xxx's in my ms :). Tried that with the last book, and couldn't rest until I knew the answer.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Edie said...

I'm researching as I go right now. With my last book, I researched beforehand, and that delayed my writing by weeks. This time I'm not giving myself an excuse.

Sometimes I'll do the XXX thing, especially if I'm in the flow. It depends how much it bugs me.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

As a historical writer, I always do major research before I start because it will have a lot to do with the plot and direction of the story. And I still end up having to do research as I write. I can't just let it go, because whether or not there was a stage line or a railroad is a big thing as to how I write the next scene. How long it would take them to get from point A to point B has to be calculated by horse, wagon, stage, and train or boat, so I can't just put an X and come back to it, it is all integral to what happens next.

So I'm a before and as I go researcher!

7:42 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Ugh! Research! It sure is a time suck. To find one little fact can take hours.

But I adore Google Earth. Absolutely adore it.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I think anytime you're dealing with historical facts, Michelle, you HAVE to do at least some research before hand. I do that too because even though I write RS, most of my work tends to have historical references. Like you, I've found some great plot twists by researching ahead of time.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL, Spy. Google Earth is da bomb. And for those of you who missed it, J posted on her personal blog the other day this cool little feature called Google Alerts. You type in the research topic you're interested in and submit, then Google sends you daily or weekly emails with links to articles and blogs that pertain to your topic. Imagine! Research that comes to you instead of you having to go look for it!

2:22 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Edie, I'm working through this ms the same way. The XXXs I'm leaving are really minor details - like street names, etc. that I could waste an hour looking up, but am choosing not to. Like you, I'm trying to stay "in the flow". Big research points - like how Interpol works - are things I'll stop and research on the way.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I can't just let it go, because whether or not there was a stage line or a railroad is a big thing as to how I write the next scene. How long it would take them to get from point A to point B has to be calculated by horse, wagon, stage, and train or boat, so I can't just put an X and come back to it, it is all integral to what happens next.

Good point, Paty. The genre you write also dictates what kind of research you do and when.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Karin Tabke said...

I do the red XXX. But if I must research to make a scene work, I will.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Elisa said...

I usually research as I go, unless there's something I have to know in order to start writing the story. I really think this has more to do with my aversion to research than it does my writing style, though. :grin: I tend to put it off until it absolutely has to be done.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Cool, Karin. I'm not alone. :)

7:10 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Elisa, do you do most of your research then after - like in final revisions?

7:11 PM  

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