How I learned to love research

Aisles of books at a library

Photo via Visualhunt.

I used to think I didn’t like research. It was, to say the least, frustrating to have to interrupt the scene I was writing to figure out the difference between two kinds of swords, or how long it would take a horse-drawn wagon to go 60 miles (including any necessary breaks), or what the hook holding the pot over the fireplace was called.

It’s a pot crane, by the way.

One of the things I loved about fantasy vs contemporary fiction was that I could make it all up and no one would say, “I’ve been to that city, and what you wrote isn’t accurate.” But as I began to take my writing more seriously, it became evident that no matter WHAT genre you write in, not everything can be made up—you still have to do at least some research.

I would mumble and grumble my way through it, eager to get back to my story.

But then I converted from pantsing to planning my stories, and all that changed. Who knew that it wasn’t RESEARCH that I disliked, but rather the interruption of my workflow that I didn’t like? Seems pretty obvious now, but it was eye-opening for me.

Now I do almost all of my research ahead of time. Here’s my current process: Before I begin writing my novel, I write a pitch for my story, and then a synopsis. The synopsis always reveals the research I still need to do, after which the results will sometimes alter the synopsis. After I have a completed and polished synopsis (a summary of my novel from the beginning to end), THEN I write the novel.

This has dramatically cut back on the times I’ve had to stop writing to figure something out, so I don’t get as irritated. I also end up with better stories with less effort, because it’s easier to rewrite a summary paragraph than to rewrite three full chapters. Final bonus: I write faster when I don’t have to keep interrupting myself.

And now that I research at the beginning, when excitement is running high and I can stop and start more easily, I’m finding that research is fun! I love to learn, and reading or watching videos about topics that educate me and expand my story’s world is so interesting.

Do you enjoy research? In school I had always disliked homework but enjoyed in-class lectures, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that I enjoy watching YouTube videos of an expert discussing something I want to learn. I’d love to hear any tips for how you manage your research or story writing!