Do You Research As You Write?

Avoid the research rabbit hole.
Photo by Anna Shvets on

Today I stumbled on an interesting discussion among a group of writers. When you are working on a manuscript and realize that you have to research something, do you stop writing and look it up? Or do you keep writing and look it up later?

For me, it depends. If it is something small that isn’t going to impact the plot, I just type a note in the body of my manuscript. WHAT IS THE STATE BIRD OF TEXAS? WHAT DO YOU CALL THE MIDDLE OF A SUNFLOWER. No, those aren’t from any work-in-progress. I made them up just for you.

But if it is something that is going to impact the manuscript’s plot, I stop and look it up. These thend to be how questions. How do you do this? How big is that? or What happens when? After all, I’d hate to write three chapters based on an assumption and have it be wrong.

Yes, there is a very real risk that I will fall down the research rabbit hole and spend half my writing time looking at pictures from various space telescopes, but some days these things can’t be helped. But there are things you can do to avoid the research rabbit hole.

My current work-in-progress is science fiction so 9 times out of 10 my question is about astronomy or space flight. If my husband or son are home, I go to them first because they are generally busy working from home or studying. They will answer my question and then send me on my merry way.

One of the writers in the group had a good suggestion. He keeps him computer screen showing his work-in-progress and only looks things up on his phone. It is small and less fun to use, especialy when doing photo research, so he tends to get back to work fairly quickly.

The reality is that I have a pretty short attention span for internet searches. I want what I want and I’m not going to spend all that much time fiddling around looking for information. If my writing is going especially well, I’ll fall back into it without too much effort.

Don’t sidetrack yourself if it going to be a problem. The key is to find what works best for you.


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