Research as a Lifestyle

Ages ago I attended a panel at a writing convention in which members of the audience asked the panel of writers how they did their research. The unanimous answer was they did not actually research for an individual story at all, or if they did, then the research was a secondary activity, done while revising. But all the writers did something else.

They lived an inquisitive lifestyle.

All of them subscribed to publications they expected to keep them informed about the world at large, and about the facts in their chosen fields (predominately Science Fiction in this case). All of them took classes with no intention of pursuing a degree. All of them read non-fiction books regularly.

This tends to be how I do my research as well. This, and a strong inclination to take note of what’s around me – such as the differences in the color of farming soil. I could tell you the color and texture of farm land ranging from Wisconsin to Texas.

When I wrote my first Regency, it was a completely different matter. I had read a number of Romances set in the Regency, but never anything one might consider historically accurate. I managed to write a score of pages before I hit my first hurdle – what the heroine would put on before stepping out of the house. By page 150 I was desperate to know what underwear of the era looked like. I spent hours and hours in the library reading one book after another. I learned a lot. And every bit of it was necessary – but not all in the same book.

I’m in need of research again, and I find this time my first inclination is to find an expert in the field, and beg for help. I don’t know if this is the best approach or not. It’s simply the one I’m going to follow.

How do you do your research? When do you do it? How much do you do?

9 Comment(s)

  1. I love to learn. Sometimes I do research just because I find a topic interesting and I want to know about it. I did this when I decided to study Gaelic. It’s an added bonus if I can use it in my writing. Sometimes I hit a snag in a story I’m trying to tell and I have to do some research to work it out. Sometimes a story comes to me just from what I’m reading-I read many, many different kinds of things. I will say, though, that when writing Timeless (a contemporary romance) being able to ask an expert specific questions was priceless. :)

    Brynna | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  2. I’ve found the Beau Monde an invaluable group for answering research questions. Sometimes my knowledge of the Regency era does not conform to the scene I’m writing and I appreciate their wide range of opinions on certain subjects.

    Sarah Tormey | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’ve always had a thing for research and always find myself looking up something or other. I find myself researching before I write the story to make sure something in my historical is plausible. Like Sarah, I am a member of the Beau Monde and I am constantly amazed at the wealth of information those ladies possess.

    Arianna | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  4. When I research I usually go to the Public Library and then fill in with internet. But the absolute best research I ever found was in a college library when I uncovered primary source materials. Incredible!

    Terri | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  5. OOooo, Terri, primary source materials?! Lucky find!

    Alice | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  6. I love primary source materials. I love reading accounts from normal everyday people. I also get my historical story ideas from personal accounts.

    I research because I love it so much. When I get into writing I engulf myself with the culture.

    Renee | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  7. I love research. I’m like Brynna. I’ll get interested in a subject or idea and then reserve 50 books from the library catalog. I’m the type who cuts things out of newspapers and magazines and has papers laying all over the house. I watch different programs that interest me and I’m always asking questions. There are so many fascinating things I’d love to write about if I only had the time!

    Years ago, I read tons of Georgette Heyer Regencies. Her research is immpeccible and I felt a real fascination with the era from her books. Nora Roberts has a wonderful way of describing places that when I was in Ireland, I had to visit some of them. That’s the kind of writer I’d love to be – one that makes the reader *want* to learn more about the subject even though it’s a fiction story.

    Laurie Faelan | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  8. Forgot the internet! Who can forget that? I can get lost for hours and hours if I let myself!!!

    Laurie Faelan | Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

  9. Browsing the internet is like trying to look stuff up in a dictionary that was torn to pieces, mixed with a dozen random magazines and put back together by a first grader.

    Alice | Dec 16, 2009 | Reply

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