dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Writing the book without getting bogged down in research

on September 6, 2012

Last for this week on the Scottish fisher lassies. (Tomorrow and Saturday: Dementia Diary.)

I’ve now got a shelf full of books about herring, steam drifters, trawlers, trains and railways – all kinds of things I would never have claimed either knowledge of nor interest in. It amuses me that I don’t actually like herring! (I’m vegetarian, mostly.)

How much research?

But to write a book which is really rooted in a real time and a real place, and is based on a group of real people, needs a solid foundation. So I launched myself into research and read and read and read… As a result I have more odd facts secreted in my brain to add to my rag-bag of useful-for-quiz nights information. Not to mention a large lever-arch file full of research notes neatly subdivided and catalogued.

But… it didn’t spur me on to write. This isn’t my first book. Yet each time I set out on the journey to produce a new book, it seems I have to learn all over again how to do it. And each book is different with different things to learn.

I was, in fact, feeling rather stuck till a friend and I attended a splendid day’s crime writing bonanza with panels of published authors telling it like it really is. Catriona McPherson hit the spot for me by reminding me our job is MSU – making stuff up. She recommended doing enough initial research to provide a platform and then launch off into the wide blue yonder.

I reckoned my big file of research notes was sufficient unto the day and started down the 1,000 words a day track. And it worked – for a week. Till I hit something I didn’t know. (How long did converted drifter/trawlers stay out on a fishing trip?) I found the answer in my shelf of specialist books (one week – they stayed pretty close in, unlike the pure trawlers which went off for long voyages to Iceland and the Barents Sea) and was able to get a few more thousand words done before I ground to a halt again.

Snakes and ladders

For me, the writing seems to be a bit stop/start as I check things out and write the next bit, with a bit of reiteration thrown  in when I realise I need to introduce something or somebody further back.

Oh, the joy of the wordprocessor! It makes it so easy to go back and change, add, adapt. In the old days when I worked on a portable typewriter in the spare bedroom (yes, I am that old!), I would have been appalled at the extra work involved. I think I would probably have handwritten my amendments on the typescript and it would have had to wait till the final retyping.

Spoiled or blessed?

I wonder are we spoilt by the benefits of word processing so we are lazier – thinking we can always go back and change it later? Or is that a real gift, enabling us to keep our perfectionist selves, our critical selves at bay?

And research – how much is enough?

I’m planning to do a bit more this afternoon before I get down to the next few chapters…

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One response to “Writing the book without getting bogged down in research

  1. I think (hope) a person reaches a point where they feel they’ve got enough research to know the characters and event and with a sigh…dive in. Of course, I’m always happy for the second printing of my book to knock out the little errors that slipped through the first time, so I’m happy to the chance to go back and change later.

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