When Research Steals Your Writing Time: How to Research Efficiently

1:45 PM Gemma Fitz 2 Comments

Lately, when I sit down to write, it seems all I end up doing is research.

"She pulled on her bluetooth--" Oh, wait a minute, do you pull on a bluetooth? How do bluetooths work anyway? And what's the plural form of bluetooth, 'cause 'bluetooths' doesn't sound quite right...

At the end of my hour long writing session, all I've got is 100 words and 10 tabs of wikipedia.
If you're like me, when you signed up for the writing gig you didn't envision yourself staying up til three in the morning looking up different types of medieval weapons. I'm a writer! I'm supposed to be writing, not spending hours altering my google searches by a single word!

And yet here you are, and it's all very exhausting and disappointing. Not to mention you're just not making your word count goals and it's taking you forever to finish a single chapter. And if you're like me and hate research in the first place, it can even make you want to stop writing the story all together, because it's just "too much work".

So here's some tips on researching efficiently, so you can get back to the actual writing.

Don't do it if you don't have to.

It's such a huge let down when I've spent hours or even days looking up how it feels to be in a car accident, and I then end up cutting the car accident out of my story or brushing over it, since the character who goes through it is only a tertiary character and it's not really important how they feel about it. (And yes, I have done this type of thing many times.) If you're spending a lot of time looking something up, just pause for a moment and ask yourself "do I really need to know this?" If you don't absolutely have to research something, your time could be much better spent on something else.

Save it for later if you have to.

If you're writing for NaNo or some other hefty word count goal, slowing down just so you can make sure that a semi automatic is the most practical type of gun for your character to be using just isn't worth it. Usually, when I'm drafting, I either write whatever comes into my head, accurate or not, or I simply press the enter bar a couple times and pick up the story after the problematic scene is over. When I come back to edit, I can then make sure my information is correct and my plot problems are believable.

Make sure you have all the facts you need.

I cannot tell you how many times I've done some research for a story, closed the tab, and then suddenly realized that I didn't collect all the information I need for the story. I do it multiple times for practically everything I look up. It's a real time waster. If you're researching, make sure you get everything you need before you close the tab. It's so much more efficient.

When you can't find it online-- be creative!

Contrary to popular belief, you cannot find the answer to every question on google, or even the internet at large. The novel I'm working on right now has a very small protagonist who is supposed to be able to fit places where the other characters can't. Googling "would a nine year old fit through a basement hatch window" hasn't been very helpful. What has been invaluable has been a ruler, cardboard boxes, and my little sister. If you can't find it online, experiment with the stuff around your house (or your friend's houses). You can find the answer to every question in real life, if you use your imagination.
Research is important. Really important. No one appreciates a book crammed full of inaccuracies and anachronisms. You need to research. But more importantly, you need to write. You are a writer, not a researcher. So don't let research steal your writing time.

Do you enjoy research? What are some ways you research efficiently? Does your first draft have to be perfect and have all the details already included, or do you skip the research and wait til later?


  1. So true. :P I hate research but I hate how corny my stories start sounding if I don't research. And I've done the closing tabs too soon thing. Way too many times. This is really helpful.

    1. Same here. Research can be a real drag, but it's so important! I'm glad you found it helpful. :)


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