Reasearch is a necessary part of creating a nonfiction—or fiction—book, but this task can get in the way of actually writing the manuscript. Its also a necessity for blogging, whether your posts consist of blogged bits of your book or stand-alone pieces. Today, writer and journalist Jane Meggitt (@meggitt_jane) offers several tips to help you research without forgetting to prioritize your writing.
Writing a nonfiction book requires a great deal of research. You knew that before you started your venture. What you may not have taken into consideration is that the sheer amount of research might get you stuck in a “black hole” and make writing anything take a back seat to collecting ever more information.
Bloggers often get into black-hole territory if looking for backlinks as well. Or they feel the need to do more-than-necessary research to prove they are experts in their subject area.
Keep in mind that research, as valuable and necessary as it is, is not writing and doesn’t substitute for that discipline. Then try using the following three tips to keep you writing despite your research needs.
Set a Schedule
It’s easy to get lost in research whether you’re writing a book or blog post. And it can be easier yet to get lost on the Internet, going from one site to another even if each successive page has less to do with your research and more to do with procrastination.
That’s why setting a schedule can help you put the research you’ve already conducted to work and force you to start writing. For example, designate a four-hour block to work on your book, but limit your research time to just two hours.
Once you’ve hit the research limit, start writing. If nothing springs to mind immediately, start editing and expanding on your notes. Once you start writing, you’ll usually find the creative juices start flowing. While you can write beyond your remaining two hours, don’t allow yourself to step over the research time permitted.
Research for the Purpose of Writing
Too often, writers think of research and writing as two separate endeavors, rather than different aspects of the same idea. If you’re writing a book or blog about a specific subject, you must immerse yourself in the information available about the topic. However, once you have your basic research behind you, start conducting specific research only for your immediate writing needs.
For example, say you’re writing a book about how Hollywood has influenced female sexuality. You know you’ll include a chapter on Hollywood’s great female sex symbols and their influence on their respective eras. If you know Garbo, Harlow, Hayworth, and Monroe are on your list, research each woman and craft her story at once. Your book will go into much more depth and detail over time, but you’re starting with key participants and can build your work from there.
Set a Deadline
The deadline isn’t the same as the schedule. If your publisher has already given you a deadline, you’ll find that may concentrate your mind effectively, but if there is no firm deadline per se, create one.
If you have the outline for each book chapter, set a strict timetable on how much you expect to spend on research and stick to it. If you don’t finish your research in the allotted time, whether it’s two days or two weeks, start writing and only return to research when you have completed as much of the project as possible without researching further.
There’s always additional information out there— sometimes contradictory information. If you have your initial story in place, you can use the added research to fill in the blanks or explain the contradictions.
Waiting to fill in specific gaps is a timesaver. If you can’t remember the name of an individual off the top of your head while writing, just insert “find name of director,” and carry on. Later, you can look up and fill in “John Huston,” for example, without the risk of falling into a black research hole.
Set a word count for each session, perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 words. That way, you can estimate how long it really will take you to finish your book. When you finish a few months later, your book will need editing and perhaps some clarification and fact-checking, but you will have done the bulk of the work. Any additional research you need to do will be specific, not general.
A Historian’s Advice
Historian David McCullough, the author of such notable works as The Path Between the Seas and Truman, gave his view of the researching/writing dilemma in an interview with Bruce Cole, then-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop and start writing. When I began, I thought that the way one should work was to do all the research and then write the book. In time I began to understand that it’s when you start writing that you really find out what you don’t know and need to know,” according to McCullough.
No matter what type of book or blog you’re working on, that’s wise advice.
How do you avoid getting stuck in the research black hole and ensure you write productively? Tell me in a comment below.
About the Author
Jane Meggitt is a former reporter for a major New Jersey newspaper chain. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications, including USA Today, Financial Advisor, LegalZoom, Zack’s and The Motley Fool.You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Pavel Ignatov|123RF.com
Thank you, I am writing my first book, and I was getting lost in “useful materials”. The more I read, the more related content I found, and I was not able to get past the ever expanding book outline.
Research is not just a BlackHole it’s a massive BlackHole.