Regency and Research, Writing

Research Woes: Six Ways to Overcome Research Block

Maybe it’s the treasure hunter in me, but I enjoy research. On the one hand (especially when the book is REALLY boring), it lets my mind float and come up with things that are far more interesting than the text. And of course on the other hand, you get to find that little nugget of information you were looking for.

This, of course, is when things are going well. And let’s face it, they don’t always. Sometimes it’s next to impossible to locate something obscure and obsession-worthy. Seeing as I appear to have a gift for researching (and obsessing over) strange topics, I have some suggestions.

So, here are my six ways to overcome research blocks:

1) Problem: You can’t find anything you’re looking for.

Solution: Are you searching for the correct terms? Especially in historical and other cultural contexts, just because we use a word to define one thing doesn’t mean everyone has, or ever will. I wanted to find “morgues” and “graveyards” (yes, I do seem to have a thing for dead bodies), but I found nothing. When, however, I started searching for “mortuary” and “cemetery” or “churchyard,” suddenly I found all sorts of information. The keyword is often the golden key you need to unlock the information you search for.

2) Problem: How do I find the right term?

Solution: To locate the term, try searching “around” the specific research item. For example, if I know “coroner” is and was the term for someone who worked in a morgue, I just needed to find out where historical sources thought the coroner worked, and out pops the search terms I’m really looking for and just didn’t know it.

3) Problem: Reading all these texts – especially the poorly printed / scanned ones – is putting me to sleep and making my head hurt.

Solution: Stop whining. Have some caffeine. Get back to work. Your story will be stronger for it, I promise. ๐Ÿ™‚

4) Problem: I can find research for what I’m looking for before and after the period I’m most interested in. Now what?

Solution: Extrapolate and keep searching. While a source from 1839 can’t say much definitively about 1817, if a situation is terrible by then – and earlier research suggests things are bad pre-1817 – then it was probably bad in 1817. Likewise, remember that the more recent source may touch on information which predates it. Check the indexes and skim through, leaving no word un-sounded.

5) Problem: I found what I was looking for, but it isn’t at all what I expected. Now what?

Solution: Basically, this just sucks, and you have my sympathies (I’ve run into this before, where research proves whatever you wanted to do is highly unlikely and improbable, which unfortunately you didn’t know until later research. My condolences.) Anyhoo, I think this leaves you with essentially two possibilities. First, change your mind. Yes, it hurts, but if research proves whatever scene / action / etc is now unlikely or improbable – and your smart readers (they are VERY smart) will catch on and it will ruin the story, it’s not worth the risk. Research something new. Second option: make it work, incorporating research and developing a plausible situation. I think this especially works when the research you’ve discovered is especially obscure that maybe you and three other people know it. I don’t advise fudging it, but instead, work around it. Use the research and your knowledge to create a workable situation.

6) Problem: I STILL can’t find what I’m looking for, and I’m at wit’s end. What do I do?

Solution: Find someone who can help. Do not underestimate the kindness of strangers and the immense knowledge available out there. Be open to asking questions, sharing and receiving information. Find the expert that might have your answer, and don’t be afraid to ask your question. Don’t expect them to do the work for you, but perhaps point you in the right direction if necessary.

So, can you tell I’m working on research well re-writing? ๐Ÿ˜‰

What about you? What research troubles have you stumbled upon? What kind of research always trips you up? What solutions have you found to research difficulties? Stories? Come on, share a little. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for reading, and hey, like the post? Why not sign up for the blog. Have a great week, happy writing, and see you back here soon. ๐Ÿ™‚


No Pressure – Just Play Time: Ten Tips to Add Play to Writing

I’ve written a few posts that have to do with the importance of play, but it would seem I wasn’t taking the advice myself. I found myself the past few months almost frozen with self-imposed rules, expectations, and pressure to succeed. So, I decided that what I really needed to do was remember why writing is fun, and why I want to write (other than to eventually make money at it, too).

As a writer – and the same goes for most other kinds of artists – we often need to be internally motivated and driven, our own bosses. But, hanging out with a demanding boss all the time can suck all the fun out of everything. Thus, here are my ten tips to add play back to your writing.

  1. Compose a “why I can’t stop writing list” [See previous blog on this]. Sure, this might be one of those only-if-things-are-really-bad moments, but it could also remind you that there are other reasons you started writing, or whatever it is that currently has you stymied. What did you really love about it? What brought you back again and again? How can you recapture those feelings?
  2. Write a short story. This isn’t the “hard” short story that you studied back in school, but a quick work of fiction. Whether this is extremely short (flash fiction, ~500 words or less) or something bigger, that’s up to you – but don’t worry too much about that. These are not necessarily stories to share with the world, but just playing with words, ideas, techniques. Start off with prompts, or start with the following point, what “what-if” list.
  3. Reconsider your method. If everything is working for you, and you’re happily producing lots of work, than leave things alone. However, if you feel change maybe warranted, than make some. Consider your learning style, what works for you, what doesn’t. Do you meticulously plot everything? What if you plotted a bit less? Do you never plot? What if you started with at least a brief plot map? Different methods work for different people, from listening to music / needing silence, pictorial story boards, index-card plot points (a favorite of mine), writing in noisy places, etc. Maybe something would work better for you, too.
  4. Take a shower. Or do whatever you know gets thoughts percolating. For me, taking a shower frees my brain for some reason, and if I let it, my imagination can take flight. Maybe a shower isn’t for you, but what about a walk? Meditation? Find what works.
  5. Start a “what-if” list. This can be a new, blank document, or as I did, a page in the “idea” book, scribbling down ideas. Don’t worry about the feasibility, your level of interest, how it fits your genre, marketing potential – no worries at all. This is brainstormed list of play; you never have to look at it again if you don’t want to, or it could foster some great brain-sparks.
  6. Build on the “what-if” list and increase the possibilities. If you play with one idea, what about it’s opposite? What if everything we thought was true, wasn’t? Okay, than the opposite might be: what if everything we thought was true, was? Again, no pressure, no worries – just write down whatever comes to mind.
  7. Write some hook-line-and-sinker first lines. Just open a blank document (or again, pen and paper if you prefer) and just start writing. These can be first lines to some of the ideas on the “what-if” list, or they can be something else. I’ve found that some of these first lines also have the potential to be the hook for the book. Plus, it’s actually a lot of fun. If you start writing more than a first line and really get going, follow through! Don’t stop now! ๐Ÿ™‚
  8. Remove the formatting and the preconceived notions that go with it. Personally, I’m a linear writer, and I start with the same formatting I always use, and “Chapter 1” blinking in the middle, and write in chapters through the book. What helped for me was to get rid of all the formatting – including chapters, double-spacing, etc – and just write. It helps to eliminate notions of where I am in the novel, how long it has to be, etc. Try it. Maybe it will work for you too.
  9. Write something for fun. Consider the possibility that not everything you write has to have the potential to be the “break-out novel” you’ve been working towards. What about some idea that you’re just toying with that may have nothing to do with where you want to go in your career? Or an idea your spouse had that sounded like fun? Try it. Don’t worry about how long it has to be, where it’s going to be, anything – just write, enjoy the process, see what you learn from it. Maybe it will someday become something significant, maybe not. But for now, none of that matters.
  10. Stop worrying, start playing. Easier said than done? Of course it is. That’s why it gets listed separately. But the important part is that you make a conscious effort to play; when it’s been awhile, it may be hard at first. But, the more you allow yourself the freedom of play, the easier it gets.

So, have you started playing yet? Did any of these ideas have potential? Or, did you try any of these ideas and they worked for you? Please, let me know – and if you have other suggestions.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week. Happy writing!