research, writing and technology, writing life January 19, 2011

I love reading. I love writing. Most of all, I love reading about the things I love to write. In other words, I love researching my subjects. I can Google a subject and spend hours reading related articles, clicking on side articles (like a digital tangent), and just absorbing the information. I do believe this allows me to write with authenticity. One of my mentors in my MFA program told me it was obvious how much I really love herbs and gardening, since my writing comes alive when I write about it.

Actually, not so much. I generally kill plants. If you ask my mother, getting me to work in the garden as a kid was like getting my sons to do dog-poo patrol in our backyard. In my mind, weeding is a form a punishment, but for people who truly love gardening, weeding is therapeutic.

What I did love was researching the subject. The information is fascinating. Herbs have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, for aromatherapy, for cooking… and for killing. I have several books on poisoning and poisonous plants. They tend to make my dinner guests nervous, but I digress.

This love of research presents a problem for me, since I am time management challenged. So how best to do the research I need without finding myself sucked in and suddenly three or four hours of my day are gone?

First and foremost, I set a timer. I have one hour to find the information I need, or at least to identify the source for that information. After one hour, I have to move on and start writing. Chances are I have enough to go on to write my word count for the day. (That’s the beauty of fiction, too. We can fudge a little.)

Best place to start? Wikipedia. I know it’s not good source material for truly academic work, but for general research it’s fantastic. Another novel I’m working on now features a woman (actually the ghost of a woman) from “somewhere in the South.” That’s all I knew. I could hear her voice and for some odd reason, she sounded Cajun to my inner ear. Fleshing out her backstory has been a blast. Starting at “Cajun” on Wikipedia took me to all sorts of interesting places.

I have an iPad (both a curse and a blessing and my children are constantly plotting to take it from me and play Angry Birds). Without doing individual reviews of each app, there are a few I find indispensible for efficient research:

Instapaper- allows you to search newspaper articles from all over the world

Articles- a Wiki search app

Wikihood- (my favorite) allows you to search for information on a particular location, anywhere in the world, and gives you interesting side info as well

When I’m in the market for a book on a particular subject, such as my poisoning books or a book on reading auras, I like to search Amazon. The customer reviews are incredibly helpful, and when combined with the “customers who purchased this book also purchased…” feature, nearly unbeatable for finding an obscure book with awesome information.

What works for you?


Tattooed writer with an attitude seeks like minded people who appreciate snark and ink. Or snarky ink.

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