Real advice for real writers (and those who want to become one)

How Research Can Take You from “Bad Writer” to “Boss Writer”

June 5, 2017

 

I research everything…and I mean everything. If I spot a green and purple insect on a doorstep, I google “strange bugs.” If I’ve had three cups of coffee in a two-hour period, I investigate whether or not I can have another without overdosing. If I hear or read an unfamiliar word, I will invariably look up its definition and origin. 

 

I’m an obsessive researcher, and I do it on purpose. A few years back, I told myself that I wasn’t creative enough because I didn’t have anything to say. I would sit down to write something “original” (a short story, a poem, a song) only to discover how much depth I lacked as a creative.

 

Ironically, it wasn’t until I started writing essays that I gained a confident writer’s voice. But even then, I struggled with the idea that my words weren’t worth reading. In an attempt to ease the emotional process, I began to educate myself on each essay topic until I felt like I had something worthwhile to say about it. I looked up historical eras, psychological theories, and sociological studies to better understand the worlds within the various topics assigned to me.

 

After months of continuing the pattern, I tapped into something new: passion. Not only did research make me a better authority on my areas of study, it also made me long-winded. And for a girl who formerly struggled to muster up a single sentence with confidence, this was a big, fat, enormous feat.

 

There is no better combatant to writer’s block than research. Imagine how less painful (and far more fulfilling) it would be to write a thriller set in eighteenth-century Bombay if you researched British imperialism in India first? To research is to pursue knowledge. To have knowledge is to defeat the war on ignorance. When a writer’s brain gets filled with all sorts of self-attained tidbits, there’s little else that brings more satisfaction than sitting down to spill out the soul’s contents. Simply put, it feels amazing to not run out of ideas. 

 

Research makes you believable. Another substantial improvement that occurred as a result of my research was that my writing, itself, became stronger as I became smarter. The fruit of my efforts proved itself through my improved grades, positive professor feedback, and literary awards. I remember the first “big girl” essay I ever submitted for grading; I received a D. Truthfully, I cried my bloody eyes out until a classmate informed me that the instructor who gave me the low score was notorious among English majors as being “the monster of all professors.”  A year later, I became the first student to ever receive a perfect essay score in one of her literature courses. The difference? I learned to research, and she respected me for knowing what I was talking about.

 

Today, my audience isn’t comprised of essay-writers, but of story-tellers. You’re not being scored by a knowledgeable professor for how well you know your subject matter. On the contrary, your audience is a much more judgmental, less helpful bunch. Still, there’s something that unites you, me, and every other sort of writer on the planet: we’re all responsible for captivating our readers. Research saved my writer’s heart and gave me creative pizzazz; I’m absolutely certain that your own research will do the same for you. Now go be captivators, tear-jerkers, heart-touchers, and everything else that research teachers you to be.    

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