I have a confession to make. I play things fast and loose when it comes to doing research. Maybe it’s because I went to university and spent a lot of time doing research for assignments, so that when it comes to doing ‘real’ research for something I’m writing, it seems like a little too much effort. Besides, I (mostly) write sci-fi. That’s the genre of making stuff up, right? The only genre you have to do less real world research for is Fantasy. Do I need to clarify what I mean by that?
Real World Research
This is, I guess I would quantify, research based on how things work in reality. If you’re writing something that goes into great detail about how cars work, you go out and do research on the subject, right? You read about its top speeds, its fuel consumption, how long it takes to get from 0-60 and so on. Even better, if you can, you go out and drive the damn thing to see how it handles. If you’re writing a thriller about an aeroplane crashing, then you do research into past crashes, you study how a plane might break up when it hits the ground/mountain/lake, what could cause such a crash, how some psycho might engineer such a thing, and so on. Better yet, if you can, you go out and hijack a plane and crash it into the ground/mountain/lake. Though that might defeat the object. Anyway, I’m drifting off point.
The other kind of research, that isn’t real world research, of course is market research. If you’re writing a fantasy book, you go out and buy a truck load of fantasy books and see what else is out there. This does of course have its drawbacks. I know Matt doesn’t like to over-read in his genre for fear of (consciously or not) being too influenced by who he reads (that is a bare-faced lie! I say the opposite here – Matt). If you read a lot of stuff by one particular author, then this is a danger you face, you start to write like them. I guess I can consider myself lucky in this regard in that I am not very influenced by a particular author’s style. However, if I’m reading Neal Asher for instance, I will heavily get into the mindset to write grand space opera. Which is what my new book is. If however, I read some cyberpunk (still desperately looking for any Pat Cadigan I can get my hands on) then I’ll be in the mindset for Wasp Whisperer. Anyhow, you do your market research to see if your budding fantasy novel is too similar to stuff that is already out there. If you’re unfortunate enough to be writing fantasy, then the probable answer is yes. I have tried so many times to come up with an outline or idea for a fantasy story that hasn’t already been done a million times, and mainly failed. Once you get into elves, wizards and magic swords, it’s probably time to consider switching genres.
This is the thrust of my post. I have recently returned from a two week stint in the US. First time I’ve been stateside. And while I haven’t done anything particularly researchy while I’ve been here, I have absorbed a lot of incidental information. It has influenced new ways of thinking about not just Wasp Whisperer (which I have set not too far from where I was staying), but about all my major writing projects.
So what is the point I’m trying to make here? Well, if you do find yourself not just in a rut, but in a drought, then a change of scene is highly recommended. I didn’t do much writing while I was away, but the trip did certainly shake things up enough for me to re-evaluate the projects I’d stalled on and give them a new lease of life. So what I’m suggesting is go on vacation! I know writing is a bizarre kind of career, one that you can do from home, but even so, a vacation every once in a while is needed. If you’re writing about a particular place, then go there! (Unless your book is set on Mercury, don’t go there – unless you want a killer tan and instant death) While I’m not going to be loading any of my books with an in depth tour around DC, I’d like to think that I’ve gathered a clearer understanding about some of those pesky “hazy bits” in the book, details that I have thus far glossed over. Even an offhand statement or two that I’ve overheard in conversation has set my mind whirling into overdrive with new ideas and thoughts.
So if you’re finding yourself stagnating, take a break, change your routine, go somewhere different, a different city, a different country, and absorb.