Writing Your Book: Write First, Research Later

Beach laptop

I’ve had some questions from members of the novel-writing Challenge, so I’ll answer them here.

Writers are always being told to “write what you know”. I’ve had several questions from members about stories they want to write, but feel they can’t, because they don’t know anything about whatever-it-is.

Forget “write what you know”. 🙂

Focus on “write what you want to know, or can look up, or ask someone about.”

For example, this is a wonderful interview with Ryan Nerz, who was a ghostwriter for Sweet Valley High, How Your Sweet Valley High Gets Made | The Hairpin. So, he’s male. How does he write about teenage girls? Here’s how:

“You know, one of the things that I would do for scenes where, say, one of the girls was getting ready to go out with a guy that she really liked, and she’d be putting on makeup, I [would call] my sister and say, ‘Tell me the details. What you do when you put on your makeup? Tell me step by step.’ And then I would write it. And my editor would say, ‘Jesus, are you a woman? That’s perfect!’ It was all just stolen from my sister.”

You can always research what you don’t know, however, there are traps when you research.

Write first, research later

ALWAYS write the first draft of your novel while you’re researching, and leave most of your research until the first draft is done. Otherwise, research is just too seductive. If you love to read, you’ll spend your time reading, convincing yourself that you’re “working”. I’ve fallen into this trap many times. There are at least two books I “researched” right into the ground; I never wrote them.

Use your imagination first. Research the details later.

For example, let’s say you’re writing an adventure novel. Your lead characters’ plane crashes into the Amazonian jungle. You’ve got a mile of things you could research:

* Small planes, makes and models, number of seats, interiors, navigation, flight routes…

* The Amazon: crash site, plants, trees, animals, weather, people who live there…

If you’re wise, you’ll forget all that research in your first draft. Just get the story down.

Just crash that plane. You can research later. Once your first draft is written, you’ll know exactly what you need to research.

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Angela Booth is a top copywriter, multi-published author, and writing teacher. She offers many guides, courses and classes to help writers to enhance their skills on her websites. She also provides inspiration and motivation for writers on her writing blogs. Angela has been writing successfully since the late 1970s, and was online in the 1980s, long before the birth of the Web. Her business books have been widely published.