Ways to Trash Your Writing Career: Delayed on Account of Research

I love a well built world. Doesn’t matter if it’s SF or fantasy or historical (all of which require world-building–not necessarily world-creation, but the layering of detail to make a believable place in the mind of the reader).  I love the sensation of being somewhere new, picking up the look and feel and smell of a place I’ve never been in my waking life.  And I have a pretty good idea of how much planning and outlining and researching it takes.  I also have a pretty good idea of what happens when you do too much research.

How much is too much?  That’s not as hard to figure as you’d think.  Too much research is when you never get to write the book.  Too much research is when you hide from writing the book by doing research.  Too much research is when you can’t see the forest (that would be the book) for the trees (that would be your thirty-five notebooks comprising the history, religion, fauna, flora, microbiology, climate, reproductive habits, winged ponies, etc. etc. of the setting for the world).

There are other dangers to over-preparation.  Having the characters and plot bend and break under the weight of of your prep is a bad thing.  But really: the big trap here?  Getting so wound up in preparing to build a world that you forget that all that research is there in service of your story, not the point of the story.

Both Rumer Godden (in In This House of Brede) and Dorothy L. Sayers ( in Gaudy Night) have secondary characters who are writing long-researched scholarly books.  A small in-joke in both books is that the manuscripts have to be prised from their authors, who want to fix just one thing… This getting caught up in the research thing is not new, nor is it limited to SF or fantasy.

A friend of mine used to have a sign over his desk:

Don’t Forget to Write

Words to live by.  I would add: Don’t forget to finish!


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Ways to Trash Your Writing Career: Delayed on Account of Research — 2 Comments

  1. Once (BC — Before Children) my husband and I toured Greece. We stayed in a B&B in downtown Athens, which hosted a couple of fairly long-term guests including a novelist. He was writing a novel about the Trojan War. I was impressed, until I learned that he had been writing this thing for years, and was proposing this season to got Hissalik (aka Troy) for more research. Research for the book had essentially become an excuse for summer vacations in Europe — entirely laudable but not productive of fiction. (And do not try to sell the IRS on the deductions!)

  2. If you can write a Master’s Thesis based on your research it’s time to start working on the book.

    If you can write a Doctoral Dissertation based upon your research, go for the degree. Then convert the dissertation to book form.