Most larger writing projects require a certain amount of research, whether you're planning a novel that needs some historical accuracy, or preparing for a piece of non-fiction that needs some up-to-date theory behind it.

Good research can lend your writing a sense of depth and credibility, and gives you confidence in what you're writing about. It can make all the difference when it comes to writing a diverse character with sensitivity and dimension, instead of writing a character with incorrect and potentially offensive stereotypes. It can help you shape a sci-fi world that your reader can really buy into; it can provide some much needed case-study evidence for a theory you're passionate about.

Understandably, this kind of work can quickly end up spiralling out of your control. Before you know it, you're months into a writing project, with pages and pages of research and no idea how to begin using it.

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Research can very easily become a form of procrastination. It's hard to recognise at first because it feels like you're being productive - logically, you need to finish the research before you can possibly be ready to start, right?

Well, yes and no. Over-researching can lead to a kind of information paralysis, making it impossible to know what to include and how to go about doing it - so in the end it's easier to do nothing.

On top of procrastination, this sneaky stalling tactic might actually be doing your writing project more harm than good. Including research in a piece of writing (fiction especially) is actually quite tricky to get right; with too many facts and not enough plot, you'll find all of that information overloads and weighs down the writing. You want to read about how the character feels and be pulled along on their arc, not get held up with a chapter long description on how to treat bullet wounds without access to a hospital.

Something I talk about in my ebook, Deep Roots, is how we can get to a point where we feel ready to stop researching and able to make a start on the actual writing. Sometimes, it's only in getting into a project that we truly know what we need to research. Even with a good plan we don't always know what will come up in a first draft, how we might deviate or shift off course with our plot - inevitably, you'll find more things to look up as you go.

Here are my tips for getting out of research mode (and not getting distracted by *even more* research when you've already started your project):

  • Set a deadline. Pick a date that seems reasonably close and make that your deadline for putting the research down and getting started with the writing. If you need help with this, tell someone! Make your start date public on Instagram, tell your family, chat it over with a mentor or coach - accountability is huge so don't discount this if you're really struggling with following through.

  • Ask yourself, 'what's the minimum' amount of knowledge I need to get started on writing this?' Make it a point not to go beyond this with your research.

  • Once you've already made a start on your project, resist the urge to interrupt your writing flow when something comes up to research. Leave spaces, highlight sections in the text, type a paragraph of nonsense for yourself to come back to. Write through the gap in your knowledge, and come back to it later.

  • Make a list of things to research. Use your writer's notebook or a tool like Evernote to keep a running list of the things that pop up as you're in the drafting process.

Finally, remember to be firm with yourself as you navigate the researching period of a project. Do you really need all of that information before you make a start?


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