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Author University: How to Research a Non-Fiction Book

Tuesday, June 07, 2005
This is the first in an occasional series of musings about the art and science of writing a book, as seen through the eyes of Ann Douglas, who is in the process of writing her 28th book.

Part 1: How to Research a Non-Fiction Book

1. Treat yourself to your beverage of choice at Starbucks. It will help you to get your head in the writerly frame of mind.

2. Swing by your favourite office supply store. Pick up essentials (paper, print cartridges, files, file boxes) and frills (fun pens, a cool labeller, and other writers' toys that will make it easier to soldier on once the book-writing process stops being fun -- as it must).

3. Go through half a box of paper and a good portion of a mega-expensive print cartridge in a single weekend by printing out research materials galore from websites, full-text article databases, and other online resources.

4. Hire your teenagers to staple, collate, and otherwise organize your research materials. If you don't have teenagers of your own, borrow some.

5. Drop $1000 on books, journal subscriptions, and other research materials.

6. Line up interviews galore. Not only will the interviews give you great material for your book: you'll get to be in touch with real, live human beings. (It's hard to get that same warm, fuzzy feeling from an online database, you know!)

7. Refuse to buy into that myth that says that your writing space has to be lonely or a garrett. Feel free to venture out to your favourite coffee establishment if the words tend to flow better (1) when you're away from your phone, fax, and/or email -- or (2) when there's always a fresh cup of coffee to be had. It's possible to surf the Internet from many coffee shops, so you can have your java and be working, too.

8. Get so excited about your book project that you have to remind yourself to eat and sleep. (Of course, the gallon of coffee you just consumed may contribute to the lack of appetite and the insomnia.)

9. Become increasingly absent-minded as you get further and further into your book research. (You'll know you're reaching book research nirvana the day you miss a credit card payment or forget to pick up your child at school. Unfortunately, you'll look like an incompetent dweeb and/or a neglectful parent to the rest of the world.)

10. Send enthusiastic emails to your editor, your friends, your family members, and anyone else who has not yet blocked your email address. Tell them how happy you are to be working on your book. (Warning: These very same people may save these emails and forward them back to you in a few weeks' time when you're not exactly living on book-writing happy street, so choose your correspondents with care.)

11. Enjoy the honeymoon stage of book-writing -- that glorious "I'm so in love with my book" stage -- while it lasts. At some point, you're going to have to get down to the hard work of making this book-writing relationship work for real.

12. Recognize when it's time to stop researching and start writing. Before that book deadline rolls around, you're going to have to stare down that blank screen and get that first paragraph, that first sentence, that first word on the screen. You can't carry on your love affair with the research stage forever. (Sorry.)

| posted by Ann D @ 7:16 PM