I write historical romance. I love taking a break from the crazy modern world and immersing myself in another time. But of course, to be a historical author requires research, which I love. My husband calls me the research weasel, and he knows that within minutes I can usually find the answer to whatever question arises. Sometimes I suspect he does this in order to distract me, but never mind–it always works. It’s “oh, look, a squirrel!” for geeks.
Anyway, my research wanderings often interrupt the flow of my writing, although I try to keep that to a minimum by doing quite a bit of research before I start. The heroine in my first book is a cook, which required me to find recipes from 1866. On rare occasions I made a few things, with mixed results. On the second page of the book I needed the heroine to mail a letter, which naturally required an hour of research into the English postal system in 1866. Then the heroine needed to take a train to Durham, which required two hours of research into train fares and timetables in, yes, 1866. Now you might think this was not so important, and indeed, the stamp question really wasn’t, impacting, as it did, exactly one sentence in one scene. The train question, however, had an impact on what time of day she had to leave London, how long it took her to get where she was going, and how much money she would need, and it framed several scenes. In the end, I couldn’t find some of the answers, and I took a little bit of literary license because if I didn’t, I’d be flying to York to visit the National Railway Museum. Which would be awesome, but somewhat impractical.
When I sit down with a book idea, I try to anticipate most of the research questions I’m going to have before I start to write. This approach does give fewer opportunities for meandering, which is generally a good thing for one’s productivity. Sometimes I will come across a research question while writing, and I’ll put a question in brackets in the text, and will come back to it later. But some questions you absolutely must answer before you can keep going, and these are the ones that drive me crazy, because sometimes there is no answer, or not one that’s easily found. Do I spend hours researching, or do I just skip the scene and go back to it later? I am new enough to writing that I don’t have a method that works for me yet–maybe I never will, but perhaps that’s okay too.
So I am curious, writer friends. How much research do you do when you write, and at which stage in the process do you do it? How many squirrels do you chase?