Why am I posting about research in December? Everyone is either celebrating their win of NaNoWriMo, finishing their novels, editing them, or can’t-even-bear-to-look-at-them. Nobody’s researching anything.
My timing is the best, I know.
^ I finished my scene outline on the 18th, and now the weeks ahead of me promise days of perusing through my list of research books to read for my novel Warfare Book I. And as I mentioned to my mentor K.M. Weiland, it’s quickly become my least favorite part of the writing process.
I find myself in the researching stage of my novel, which has quickly proven to be the most unenjoyable. I have a deadline and can’t really afford to procrastinate, but it’s so painfully frustrating that I keep failing to meet my daily goals and am falling behind schedule. Do I need to find a way to get excited about the research or actually take a break?
Ughhh, research. Definitely a tough one to conquer. Such a grind sometimes. But it can be defeated nonetheless.
What keeps me on the right track are these ten tips that I hope might help you should you find yourself in need of researching anything!
Because I definitely know what I’m talking about and have totally researched thousands of projects and completely have these tips down to a science.
1. SET A SEMI-FLEXIBLE DEADLINE
A goal is a dream with a deadline. I keep track of all my writing-related progress on this epic, free site called MyWriteClub. You can create writing goals for yourself, update your progress, and of course, your fellow MWC friends can follow you to see your updates and comment on your goals with motivation.
And if sprinting is your thing, you can participate in global or private word sprints, which are 1,000x better than NaNo’s word wars. Just try it out and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t word sprint as much anymore—I’m moving more toward quality over quantity—but they’re amazing for boosting your word count speed. I went from writing 100-200 words every half hour to two thousand every half hour. Also while I was on it, the global sprint was actually a great missions base and I got to talk to some people about salvation.
(That’s another way of saying hey everybody! Follow me on MWC!)
But back to the deadline. Your deadline should challenge you, but not be so soon that it would be the end of the world if you didn’t make it by that date. Try to keep your deadline flexible and not perfectly exact; right now my schedule is running ahead, and I find myself accomplishing my goals ahead of time.
And then some things are taking a little longer, like… research. -__- I had to extend it a week because I was having such a hard time with the first book, so it was a good thing I had left some leeway this month to work out the due dates.
Just be sure not to put your goal so far out there that you give yourself room for procrastination. “Eh, my goal’s not due ’til next week, I can work on it tomorrow.” No procrastination! That aids in the opposite of success (failure).
(Also consider what time your library needs any resources back, or beg them for a longer check-out time, which I’m currently doing. 😇)
2. SET DAILY OR WEEKLY GOALS
Divide a book or article of research’s page count number by how many days you want to have it read by. Then you’ll have a daily goal of pages you need to read and make notes on.
Remember to keep these flexible, too. For example, if you know you’re busy Friday but won’t be on Saturday, consider a weekly goal instead of a daily goal so you can get by with less on the busy days and more on the less-busy ones.
3. MAKE TIME TO WORK
Those pages aren’t going to be noted themselves. Carving time out of your schedule is the only efficient way to do it. I’ve missed a lot of time I could be researching because all I knew was: Wake up late again because you have an insane sleep schedule. Get school done. Work on blog. Research sometime in the evening.
See how research was in the evening? Sometimes school would run late or I’d have to spend the evenings working on a job. It didn’t help that I was really hating it and procrastinating.
But then one day I sat down and decided to spend the next however-long-it-would-take-me and finish however-many pages. I finished that research book that was driving me crazy less than two days later—and two days earlier than my goal. Win-win! Now, with my future research books, I’m setting specified times for when all I do is research.
That’s called laser-like focus, which we’ll talk about in point number 4.
4. ANNIHILATE THE DISTRACTIONS
(Ninja book in the background, ninja drawing as my phone’s background. Yeahhh. 👊)
I really like multitasking when I work on non-enjoyable projects. And even enjoyable ones. Texting, roleplaying, or online chatting, preferably; I don’t like being lonely online. I also like bombarding people with snippets of whatever I’m doing (which is probably why most chat rooms clear out when I get on >:D).
But when it comes down to getting a project done—an especially unenjoyable one you’ve been procrastinating but don’t really have time to put off anymore—sometimes the distractions gotta go. It can be hard, but not only does it feel freeing, it also frees your mind to focus in on what needs to get done instead of focusing on what’s less important at the time.
That’s laser-like focus. Saying “I’m going to do nothing else but _____ for ______ amount of time.” You’d be amazed at how much you can get done when you’re 100% focused on that one thing alone!
5. HELP YOURSELF FOCUS
That being said, help yourself lock in to that laser-like focus. Think about what helps you focus; what helps you think about nothing but the project in front of you.
For me, that’s having my headphones in, listening to a song on repeat that’s become repetitive (lyrics usually aren’t good for focusing, but my brain actually deals pretty well with them if I know the song well enough). Usually, I’ll need to work inside, sitting at a desk or somewhere, in the same place I have been for a while without a change of place, where I’m not tempted to look up and daydream out the window (although I did sit outside for the majority of my outlining and structuring, because being outside for daydreaming and brainstorming helped).
Once you’ve locked in to laser-like focus, you can go, go, go until that alarm goes off or you have nothing left (usually, for me, it’s the latter, because I hate alarms).
6. BREAK IT UP
Sometimes, when you loathe something so much the thought of pouring a straight hour of work into it makes you want to barf, try something completely different: breaking it up.
My friend Josie taught me this method, so I’m sure she could give you way more tips than I can. But basically, reward yourself in small chunks with other small chunks of a project you do enjoy.
For example, I had about 70 comments in moderation waiting for me to reply to one day, and 75 more pages to go for my research. I decided to break the two projects up in chunks; for every paragraph (they were long, guys) of research I read and made notes on, I would reply to one comment. And then find some other project to break the research up with when I ran out of comments.
Except that didn’t really work for me, because once I got rolling on that one paragraph, I was in that laser-like focus. I tried to do it again the next day, but bam! I looked up and had knocked out 75 pages in two nights, completely finished the rest of the daunting research book.
7. KEEP YOUR NOTES SHORT & IN YOUR OWN WORDS
I love details. And I’m convinced I need details to make things work. When trying to make a book as historically accurate as possible, details should be important.
But if you know me, I take things far. Sometimes too far. I’d be sitting there, frustrated because I was literally copying the entire page into my note document. Which is kind of plagiarism. (What can I say, every sentence was packed with important details.)
Plus, I wasn’t just researching for the first book; while I had the resources, I had to write everything that would be important for future books in the series.
But you can defeat the need for every single detail, too. Instead of writing down the paragraph or page word for word, read the entire paragraph first. Then type up the important things that you remember or can paraphrase in the shortest way possible, and refer to it only if you need the exact spelling on a word, or are writing down an exact list (like a list of foods Japanese farmers ate in the in the Edo period).
Have fun with your notes, too. For example:
and then PIEULBRFGIESBG YES SUSHI lots of sushi along the streets yo. I LOVE SUSHI.
the raw fish was cut into very fine slices and eaten dipped into soy sauce (THAT ACTUALLY SOUNDS EXTREMELY DELICIOUS CAN I TRY SOME AND COUNT IT AS RESEARCH PLZ), or mixed with green and other vegetables, with vinegar poured over all (ew vinegar).
NO MILK WHAT.
EWWWW ANOTHER CHARACTERISTIC FEATURE WAS THE SUPER WEIRD ARRANGEMENT OF THE HAIR WAHT IN THE WORLD.
(So in 1680s, prison was still not very humanitarian. HAHA HORA AND KIRA. TIME TO LEARN YOUR LESSONS. THE HARD WAY. NO, LITERALLY.)
DUDE SAMURAI WERE SO PRIDEFUL.
8. HAVE FRIENDS KEEP YOU ACCOUNTABLE
(Yes. Popcorn is one of my friends. I’m kind of a mean friend, because I eat the popcorn.)
This is for extreme cases. I usually have a lot of drive to finish projects, so outside motivation isn’t necessary, even though I adore it. Bug all your friends with:
Bam. There’s no escaping it now. YOU ARE BEING FORCED TO RESEARCH.
9. JUST GET STARTED
(See what I mean? I ate my popcorn friend.)
What I’ve found out is sometimes you just have to get started. Even though you’re procrastinating it, even though it’s HARD UGH SERIOUSLY I HATED TAKING NOTES ON THIS RESEARCH BOOK. Get the ball rolling. And it will keep rolling, and keep rolling, and keep rolling. Like when I tried to do a comment per paragraph; I got the ball rolling and couldn’t stop.
Learn a lesson from Nike and “just do it”.
10. KEEP YOURSELF MOTIVATED
You don’t have to be excited about every *part* of writing. Rather, you have to be excited enough about the particular story that you’re motivated to keep going even through the boring, frustrating stuff.
My series Warfare is more than enough motivation. I’m in love with it. I’m in love with the characters, the plot, the heart of it all. I’m daydreaming about my characters all the time, writing little short-stories on the side when I’m only outlining, even pretending to be my characters when no one is around (shhh). It’s more than enough to keep me going through frustrating research.
… Especially when you put this much time into something you love, something that you have a passion for. That’s just… that’s motivation.
Great song for being motivated through frustrating research, by the way. Those lyrics start the song off and I’m like YEAHHH I’M READY TO DO THIS. My brain now knows it well enough to work well with the lyrics, even though they’re rap. XD
Friends are also a great source of motivation. Like I said, I usually don’t need outside motivation to keep my drive for finishing projects up—I’m in love with my story—but research is a tough one for me. So HUGE thank-yous to Christina and Light4theLord, fellow friends on MWC, who have commented many times with encouragement on my Warfare Research | Physical Books goal. You guys are awesome!
A lot of these tips work great for projects that aren’t about research; laser-like focus and keeping yourself motivated are good for lots of other stuff, too.
WHAT WOULD YOU ADD? HAVE YOU EVER DONE RESEARCH FOR A BOOK BEFORE?
Research isn’t just for historical fiction, I’ve discovered. GASP. Even for fantasy, authors should know the difference between a one- and three-degree burn (from a fire-breathing dragon, of course). 😱 NO ONE IS FREE FROM THE CLUTCHES OF RESEARCH.
BUT THAT’S OKAY, BECAUSE WE CAN ALL DEFEAT IT.