A Tea Party filled with an assortment of food, a charcuterie board, jam, bread, sweets, a cake, books, a tea pot, and tea cups, various fruits
Tea Party

Tea Party 9 (Q&A: Research)

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Hello! It feels like it’s been a long time since our last tea party! How have you been? We hope you’ve had a good time during this spooky season. This tea party we’re discussing researching processes, tips, and how we use that in our writing! Grab a drink and join us!

1. How much research do you usually do before you start writing?


It honestly varies depending on the project. For fantasy stories especially, I find myself researching a lot. I have to know myths associated with mythical creatures (and then decide if it’s canon for my project or not) and research enough to establish certain rules for any magic/other realms before I can write. For other stories, I don’t usually research too much. I’m pretty sure most of my research for Tied to You was just me trying to remember that one Scottish island I stayed on and the names of places and nothing else. 


I generally just do the bare minimum of research needed before I start. Since I’ve started outlining my stories before I really draft them, this helps me to know what kind of broad stroke things I might need to know before really diving into things. I don’t really know what smaller details I’ll need until I run into them or someone asks me during the editing process


Quite a bit, I think. I try to get as much of it out of the way up front as I can. That way, I’m less likely to have to revamp a major plot point down the line because it turns out something is too far beyond suspending disbelief. I also just really like learning about random stuff, so it’s pretty easy for me to get caught up in this part.

2. Do you tend to research before you write or while you write?


I usually try to do my research before I write so that I’m not distracted by random research breaks when I sit down to write. That being said, I usually accidentally write myself into a corner I need to research my way out of, so it’s a process. 


I always tend to research as I write. I never really know what I’m going to need to look up or what roadblocks I might run into until I actually do. I like knowing things, but I like writing more lol. Sometimes pausing to research even helps me to take a break from what I’m doing and take a breath—other times I get sucked down a rabbit hole and end up reading all about a topic so that I can try to fully understand what I’m tackling. It just depends on the story and the depth of how much I’m mentioning it or how interesting the topic is.


Both! I try to get the bulk of my research out of the way before I start, but I usually end up having to look up a few more things as I’m writing. From what I’ve heard, though, this isn’t the best habit. A lot of people recommend coming back to the parts that need more research after finishing a draft, so you don’t lose momentum. I just… I gotta know, you know? I get more distracted not knowing.

3. How do you organize your research?


I read somewhere that authors should have a guidebook for their writing so there’s a single document where everything is. I started doing it, and it’s honestly been more helpful than my previous “write this on a scrap paper then lose it when I need it most” strategy. Who knew? So I have a guidebook that has characters, attributes, motivations, worldbuilding, plot points, and any other random information I may need later. That way, I just have to refer to the guide whenever I forget something.


Like I said above, I just like knowing things in general, so a lot of it is just kept in my head. If I need to take notes, I take them in an old-fashioned spiral notebook and highlight the really important things and make notes on how to connect them into the story. Sometimes I’ll just make a note directly into the outline of the story itself so that I know how it affects things and ties in. I honestly really like to have reference books if possible, so I can take notes and highlight directly in there if I need to. I’ll bookmark webpages that are useful to me and put them in a folder in my bookmarks bar.


I use bookmarks on my web browser that are organized into folders for different stories and topics. Everything else gets put in the same document as my outline, so I can have it all in one place. Sometimes (okay, most of the time), I’m not organized at all, and I just leave tabs open on my phone and laptop for very, very, very long periods of time.

4. Do you have any go-to places for research?


Google? I have a lot of actual books on mythical creatures, magic, mermaids, fairies, secret meanings of flowers, code cracking, etc. that I use when I need in-depth research. For the basic questions, I usually just look on the internet for answers, but when I’m planning on something being a major plot point, I like having a book to read and refer to when I’m planning the story. 


I generally use google and Wikipedia to jump start. I prefer primary sources if it’s applicable, because of course I do. Something I’d really like to do is using YouTube videos as primary sources, too, but I haven’t had much use or time for that for anything I’ve been working on recently. It also helps for me to talk it out with someone. I’m surrounded by intelligent and brilliant people in my life, so if I don’t understand something and start to explain the concept to them, they can usually help me. Talking it over helps cement it in my head and understand it better than writing it down ever could.


It depends on what I’m researching. I honestly love looking everywhere. Books are always cool; web searches are super convenient; videos give me visuals for experiences I might not have had myself, and that can be extra helpful when I’m writing descriptions. To me, what’s more important is how credible my sources are. So, checking multiple sources, checking my sources’ sources—stuff like that tends to be my main focus. I don’t have a go-to place to search so much as I like to check as many places as I can.

5. Any tips on researching?


Apple is gonna be a little called out (you know I love you and I do the same thing), but there is a thing called “too much research.” Sometimes researching too much disrupts the writing process and hurts the creativity. It’s good to research a bit, but if you find you’re going in too much detail or have been researching more than writing (and maybe as a way to procrastinate on the writing because you’re worried it might not be ready to be written yet), then maybe it’s time to just start writing. A trick I’ve learned was to write nonstop, and if there’s a research point just write ELEPHANT and keep going. Like, if character A is supposed to quote Shakespeare to show what a nerd they are and you’re like “which play and quote should I use to show this character best? Time to read all of Will’s collected work!” just… don’t. Write ELEPHANT, keep going with character B being like “nerd”, and then later just control+f “ELEPHANT” and be like “oh yeah, now I have time to research this quote and add it in.” Basically, don’t research too much. 


I’m not really the best at researching, but it’s always good to look at a wide variety of sources to make sure you have the right information. I try to go for primary sources if that’s something that’s applicable. Every source you look at will have a bias, even a scientific study, so it’s good to know the opposing viewpoints as well. 


If you’re like me and happen to struggle with moving on from the research stage, asking “How much will knowing more contribute to the story?” really helps. It’s easy to argue that the more I know the better, but with writing, it needs to be more than just cool facts. It’s gotta pull its weight through plot, character, or world building—and in a way that keeps the reader engaged. If something is really interesting but not significant to the story, I can save learning more about it for my non-writing time. My last tip is that sometimes the research might be saying this isn’t my story to tell or that I need some sensitivity readers, and I do my absolute best to catch these instances.

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A session! How do you personally research? Is it different from us? Do you have any tips for us? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @JaamWriting!

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