The Romance of Research, The Marriage of Writing
I’m known as a writer, but here’s my secret: I often like research more.
Research can feel like a series of romantic crushes – all exciting and new and full of dopamine hits of discovery.
Writing, especially on big book-length projects, is a marriage. There are days when it flows and you feel all lovey-dovey, but there are also slogs when you feel like all you talk about is the mortgage.
But eventually in the writing process, as in life, you want to move from the casual to the committed. That’s when you have to step away from Google, say goodbye to your librarian and archivist friends, and stop chasing down interviews.
When does that day come? Every project – like every relationship – is different, but usually when you start finding the same information repeating itself, it’s time to stop researching and sit down to write. A looming deadline or an irate editor is also a very good reason.
And if, like me, you love the gathering stage, take heart: as in many good marriages, you still get date nights. There are usually times while you pound out your article or manuscript that you realize you need to fact check something, or delve deeper, or find one more piece of evidence to support a statement.
Once you find that information, though, pry yourself away from the stacks and the search engines, and get back to that draft. Until the next project…
1. The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth. A great place to start if you’re new to research, or want a refresher.
2. The Joy of Writing by Pierre Berton. This memoir/how-to book by one of Canada’s most popular historical writers is sure to give you the inside story on tips and pitfalls, as well as inspiration to keep going.
3. Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide by Donald A. Ritchie. If you’re doing interviews or oral histories, this could be useful.
Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail is a writer and historian who loves to tell stories connected to Canada’s past. She is the author of For the Love of Flying and Polar Winds (forthcoming), and was Writer-in-Residence at Berton House Retreat in Dawson City. She also regularly publishes articles and essays, and currently writes columns for Homes&Living (Calgary) and What’s Up Yukon. She lives in Edmonton. Get in touch at www.daniellemc.com or @danicanuck