Research for Writing and Life
As a freelance editor and a mother of four kids, I have learned that basic research skills are a must, both in writing and in life. Children, like writers and editors, are curious creatures. We all wonder about things that have little to do with our everyday lives. So we do research. Sometimes we fall down the rabbit hole and don’t come out for hours.
As writers, use this curiosity as a service to your craft and try not to let it become too distracting. Your editor is there to serve your craft as well, even if it takes them to unexpected places.
Consider the following list of things I have looked up in recent weeks. Take a guess which ones were prompted by my editorial work and which were prompted by my children.
- How far can a person ride a horse in a day?
- Symptoms of internal bleeding
- How big are muskrats?
- Distance to horizon from beach
- At what ages do babies make eye contact?
- Types of Greek olives
- Chinese monasteries
- Types of martial arts
- Moon phases
- Do cats see pink?
- What is an ocarina?
- Yeti vs. Bigfoot
Researching facts is a vital part of writing fiction, even fantasy and science fiction. It seems counterintuitive, but if you don’t get basic facts right, your readers will not find anything within your story believable. And getting your readers to buy into your story is what this writing thing is all about.
Five of the items on the list above were prompted by my work on fiction manuscripts (the following three are from my work with nonfiction and the final five were prompted by my kids). I needed to know distances, sight lines, animal sizes, developmental milestones, and injury symptoms in service to the larger stories I was editing. After all, a character can’t realistically ride a horse (or a muskrat) 200 miles in a single day, make meaningful eye contact with a newborn, or swim from the beach to the horizon with internal bleeding, and it’s important to know that.
Stay curious, and when you’re writing, do your research. Then, save your research for when your editor inevitably asks! But don’t let the research keep you from reaching your writing goals. Remember, the research is to serve the writing. If you find yourself hung up on details that need research, flag them and keep writing. You can come back to them later, and your editor will help.