When I wrote my first book I honestly knew very little about writing. I spent as much time researching how to write as I spent actually writing. I once spent three days reading everything I could find on the correct use of the apostrophe. And don’t get me started on commas! Who knew there were so many different types of commas. “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss became a favourite read of mine at that time. Educational and hilarious.
Time that I had ear-marked for writing got swallowed up with my incessant quest for information, whether it be about technique or subject matter, and I’d disappear down the rabbit hole of research, sometimes for days.
My first book was a blend of paranormal romance and history with a strong Celtic — and more specifically, druid — link to it, so much of my time was spent researching how the Celts lived and the role of the druids. It wasn’t fact-heavy but I felt that in order for me to write those parts of the story authentically I really needed to have a complete overview of that time. However, research can become a black hole that just keeps pulling us in, seducing us with answers that fascinate and distract us from actually writing the story that we want to tell.
I still believe that it is essential for the writer to intimately know the world that their story is taking place in, even things that the characters and the readers don’t need to know. Only this time around I did my research first. I have been living in my make believe world for about a year already, though I only actually started writing the story a month or two ago. That’s not to say that I don’t need to research any more. I’m constantly finding things to investigate or double check, but much of the world-building research I did before I started writing. I mapped out the main plots of the story, the science behind it and how it all connected together as a whole.
As I’m now writing a YA Sci-fi story, there is an awful lot more that I needed to research for this one. I can’t argue with the laws of physics and, though I know that I can apply a certain amount of creative licence, I personally like to have my stories grounded on a foundation of fact. In some ways, that makes my job harder because I can’t simply make things up to fit my story; there has to be a certain amount of logic in my make-believe. So setting the parameters for my story world right at the outset has really helped focus my writing. It means the continuity will be there from beginning to end as I’m following the same rules throughout. And it means I can spend more time writing the story uninterrupted because I know where I’m going. Constantly stopping to research often throws me off my rhythm, or I lose the feel, the voice, of whichever character I may be writing about.
I have learnt that research is an intrinsic part of the process of writing. It’s one of my favourite parts of the process. Perhaps this insatiable need to know is characteristic of us writer types. But this time around I’m keeping my research firmly in its place.