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5 research tips for novelists

2 January 2018

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When you make the decision to become an author and pen your own masterpiece, it’s common to simply dive straight into the writing process.

After all, why not? You’ve got all of these fabulous ideas swimming around your head - you need to let them out!

As a writing technique, that’s not bad practice at all (it’s sometimes referred to as ‘free writing), but, ultimately, it’ll likely send you down a literary cul-de-sac from which you cannot escape.

Every book needs some form of a plan, but it needs researching, too. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter - you’ll benefit significantly as the author if you take time to sit down and immerse yourself in the theme or topic.

Here’s five of our favourite research tips for novelists:

1. Set yourself a time limit

Researching can be incredibly time-consuming, and because of that, it’s easy to get lost in a world of web pages, haphazard note taking and an endless list of YouTube videos you think you need to watch.

You can do too much research, so with that in mind, set yourself a time limit by which the research must be finished. It might be a day, two weeks or a month, but whatever it is, stick to it.

2. Keep everything organised

A messy research ethic won’t help you at all.

Pieces of paper, Post It notes and random documents strewn across your hard drive will be hard to make sense of further down the line, so try your best to keep all of your research organised.

This requires a bit more effort, sure, but it really is worth it in the long run. Try using one of the many note-taking apps for your smartphone or tablet to aid the process - they really do work for this kind of task.

3. Draft in some help

Who says you need to do all of the research yourself?

If your book is particularly taxing when it comes to the research required, see if a friend can lend a hand. Alternatively, and if you have the budget for it, an intern could do some of the leg work for you.

Your hired helper will enable you to spread the research workload and relieve you of the pressure associated with covering every possible corner. All you need from them is the result of the research, which, together, you can dissect.

4. Turn off the internet while writing

Once you’re ready to write, try any form of distraction-free writing that works for you. That might include not checking emails, locking yourself away in the quietest room in the house or telling your family you’ll be ‘gone a while’, but it should also, definitely, include turning off the internet.

Disconnect your laptop or tablet from the web while writing, because it’ll help immeasurably with the next research tip…

5. Don’t research mid-draft

How many times have you been halfway through a chapter only to hit an impasse where you need to look something up?

Chances are, you’ll have done so there and then, but will have in turn lost your thread or destroyed the brilliant run you were on.

Instead, make a note next to the section you feels researching, and only come back to it when you’ve finished the chapter or section in question. You can always revisit!

Wrapping up

Most importantly of all - enjoy your research; it should be one of the most enlightening and exciting parts of the novel writing process.

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