Whether we’re writing about the most improbable rotating rock in the history of science fiction or a world talked about over and over again, breathing it life will require grounding in the theories of linguistics, motivation, philosophy, economics, sociology and politics to name a few. Research is its DNA.
The being of a writer is research: one of continuous observation and reading. We aim to gain a greater understanding of existence, and as we do, it polishes our craft.
When engaged by a client, a professional writer’s research task is somewhat defined though by no means linear. You have the problem; you have the client’s sought after solution. You now need to work out how to bring it about.
Education and experience fill some voids. The writer’s fee though, in addition to the art of words, is earned in knowing where to look for the remaining answers. And it’s a definite high-end skill: one that revolves around the technique of questioning and zeroing in on where to dig.
A recent project for example, saw me conducting research in interest rates, law, investment values, local history, and government procedures. I’m a specialist in none. But I’m a constant writer.
Other times, research flies like a kite: it’s very much up to the individual which wind it takes.
So the question arises. Why bother researching without a project purpose? Why not just write? Enter Stephen King’s legendary reply:
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – On Writing.
And many still look at those words with a shrug.
But there’s one further secret I’d add. Don’t just read now: know what you’re going to read as soon as you’re finished.
For a writer, reading is a continuous endeavor. Stopping or wandering off—forgetting why a particular path was started—is the most certain way to kill creative focus. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let that happen. It will occasionally occur. Expect it, because we’re human.
Enjoy what you’re reading, complete it—or as Austin Kleon says trash what isn’t grabbing you—and immediately start with the next item in your pile: a blog, journal, magazine, or tome. When a client calls, the piles are merely exchanged. Yours will be waiting on return.