I know this has never happened to you, but I got lost in Pinterest the other day. (I need to apologize to my wife whom I’m regularly made fun of for spending so much time when Pinterest first came out.)
I started looking for a picture of Paris, that I needed for another project. My “researching” ended up derailing any attempt at writing. An hour later I had some awesome new Pins, but no words written and no extra time to get anything else done. Crap. I should have heeded my own advice:
Write first, research second.
Research is often quicksand, sucking us in and not letting us get back to work. As a writer, it is really easy to fall into “research mode” when I should be working. Often, I’ll tell myself I’m looking for important details. As in, how could I possibly write if I don’t have accurate information about some random details?
I have found my most productive sessions writing are when I write non-stop, slowing down only to catch my breathe. When I get caught up on a detail and stop to look it up, it breaks the flow. When you break the flow, the words don’t come as easily or as quickly. My goal is to stay in flow as much as possible.
If you are writing and need a fact or a detail, put a ____________ where you need to come back and add the detail and keep writing. Don’t know how the 22nd President was, put a _________ and keep writing. Need to know the temperature that you can cook an egg on concrete, leave a ________ and keep pounding out the words. (For the record, I have no idea who the 22nd President was! But I’ll look it up soon!)
Research is like quick sand because it’s a lot easier to spend time “researching” online than it is to write. Stephen Pressfield would call this temptation the Resistance. (If you don’t know that reference, you need too. His book the War of Art was instrumental in my conversion from amateur writer to professional writer.)
Don’t get sucked into the research until you’ve gotten your writing quota for the day finished. After you’ve written, take a break and complete your research.
Types of research I do:
– Finding a picture for a blog post
– Looking up a source or a quote
– Finding a related book for information
– Looking up a specific detail like the fact that Grover Cleveland was the 22nd President.
How to save time while researching:
– I try and do all this research when I’m watching TV or there’s a lot of distractions around. I really want to watch the football game, but I also need a good quote for an article. Thus I do them both at the same time.
– Keep a list of sources and references for easy repeated use. If there is a book you quote often, or a website you use frequently, keep the source information readily available.
– Delegate to a friend or co-worker. You have some people in your life that would love to work on a project with you. Give them a few details and see what they come up with.
Note: There are times when I need to do serious research that demands my full concentration. I treat this type of research similarly as to how I treat writing. I focus on the tasks, blocking out distractions. I’m currently working on a book that is requiring a lot more research than I’m used to. I can’t do research for that book while watching TV.
I hope this simple principle will help you write more and finish your projects!