Positive Writer

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3 Steps to Stop Fearing Writing Research

Finding out the facts of your fiction details can be time-consuming and frustrating. Accuracy is important to your readers, but it’s easy to view collecting the facts as drudgery that interrupts your creative flow.

Short of a fact-finding intern, what’s a writer to do?

writing-research

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. ―Zora Neale Hurston (Tweet this Quote)

Step 1: Group Your Questions in a Separate Document, and Put It Aside

As you write, keep a highlighter or a pad of sticky labels at your side and keep an eye out for the things that need to be fact-checked as you go along. What’s the exact name of that architectural detail? How far away is Denver from Telluride in miles? How many seats does a Boeing 737 have across an aisle—three or four?

Note them down in a separate document, and mark your spot with a Comment (in Microsoft Word) or a sticky note or highlighter (if you’re using printed pages).

Step 2: Put Down the Google and Step Away from the Internet

Not fact-checking (Oh, this is such a quick thing to answer. I’ll just Google it) while writing is a skill. And, like any other skill, it takes time to master.

Practice consciously closing your browser when you catch yourself in mid -act-check, and deliberately pick up your pen, or lay your fingers on your keyboard, and go back to your writing. After you’re back in the flow, note your question in your fact-check document and mark your question’s place in your text.

Most importantly, do NOT stop to look up anything while you’re writing. That time is sacred, even from the likes of Google and PubMed.

Google’ is not a synonym for ‘research’. ―Dan Brown (Tweet this Quote)

Step 3: Take a Mini Writing Vacation, and Blaze Through Your Research List

Stretch your research muscles once every few weeks. When you have a hefty list of questions that need answering, block off an entire afternoon, settle in a comfortable spot somewhere outside of your writing space, and light up the Internet or the library as you methodically check off each an every question on your list.

It’s important that you do your research outside your normal writing environment, so you can reinforce your no-Googling-during-writing habit, mentioned above.

Hey, I know research is really only fun when you’re procrastinating (hey, it’s still related to writing… right?) but mindfully separating the two will help make your writing flow smoother, and your research feel like less of a chore and more of a enjoyable and periodic vacation from your writing that (bonus!) leaves your work better than it was before.

What is your opinion on research: Handy procrastination tool or bane of your writing existence? Do you think separating Googling from writing helps?

What’s the weirdest question you’ve ever had to answer for a work in progress? Share in the comments.

This post was written by Positive Writer contributor, Shanan Haislip.

About Shanan Haislip

I'm a full-time business writer, an essayist, and webmaster at The Procrastiwriter, a blog about ways to fit writing in around a full-time life (without going insane). I'm also a regular contributor on PositiveWriter.com and contributed to The Audacity to be a Writer. Join me on Twitter at @Write_Tomorrow.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • Kathy

    I just did a no-no as I went to Google to find out about strokes and if they would cause death. Now I read that it’s best to just keep writing and to save the search until I have free time to unearth my information. I do have some medical knowledge, but to verify information makes for my confidence in what I’ve written. Good to know that there are differences in these two functions …writing and then research.

    • Kathy, I do that same thing all the time, even when I have the best of intentions at heart! If you’re thinking of dividing up the research and writing, just make sure you are patient with yourself, as lapses can and do happen all the time.

  • Melissa Kust

    All I know is that I absolutely love doing research. It actually gets me e excited. I could do it all day and happen to be very good at it. So if anyone out there it’s looking for some help but can’t r really afford to pay a lot. I am your hit gg girl. Seriously I will give you the most discounted prices and you will not be disappointed. Please contact me asap so I can get to work for you. My email address is melissaku32@gmail.com. Please I look forward t to hearing from you and how I can help. My name is Melissa.

  • Kevin McArthur

    Shanan,
    I thoroughly enjoyed the article. Since I have long worked in jobs pertaining to the internet, this has a downfall for me as a writer. Yes, I can find my subject matter quickly, but can easily spend hours delving deeper, researching more, side-tracking. Ugh! I will try your method and see if I can put all of my questions aside and research them later.

    Great article, thank you.