Monday, August 31, 2009

Ask the Author

Thank YOU to all the I.N.K. readers who have submitted questions. They are terrific. Isn’t it interesting to get a better understanding of how we all go about researching and writing?

Here are two answers to a great question from Mark Herr. Thanks, Mark. We hope you find these responses useful.

I know there is no "right answer" to this, but in your opinions, how much research is enough research before you start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)?

Here’s how Dorothy Hinshaw Patent answered the question:
That’s a good question, Mark, and the answer depends on a lot of things. How much background information do you have to start with? If the topic is new to you, you’ll need to do lots of groundwork before you even know what questions need to be answered by further research.

I find that after carrying out quite a bit of research, I keep finding facts I already have in hand. Less and less of the information is new. That’s a hint that I’ve mined most of what’s available. For facts and figures, you should have two or three different sources you can trust that agree on the information. Another hint you’re getting there is when you start writing the piece in your head.Once you start writing, you may come up with some new questions that you didn’t think of before, so don’t wait until too close to a deadline to begin to write.

And here’s what Sue Macy had to say:I find that when I work on a book, I do several “waves” of research, each tied to a specific stage of the process. After I have a “lightbulb moment” that suggests a book idea, I do the initial research to make sure the idea is solid and the topic really appeals to me. That usually means reading a few articles and surveying the existing literature to see what’s out there on the subject.

If I want to go ahead with the project, I use this initial research to write a proposal. It might include an introduction to the topic, an outline of the proposed book (this will likely be tweaked over time), and a page or two about the marketability of the book, including a survey of any similar volumes in print and notes on who might buy it and where (or if) it might be used in the school curriculum. Some people also write a sample chapter, which requires a whole lot more research at this early stage. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid doing that.

After the proposal has been sold, I’ll start my in-depth research. That might include visits to places of significance to the topic, interviews with appropriate people, and lots of archival research at libraries and on the Internet.

I do a lot of photocopying and print out lots of scholarly papers and newspaper articles, which I place in folders labeled for each chapter of the book. If an item has material relevant to more than one chapter, I use Post-Its to remind myself to move it to the next folder when the earlier chapter is done.

Once I have organized all of the collected material, I read through what I have filed in the folder for the first chapter. Hopefully, by now I have enough material to enable me to visualize the shape that the chapter will take. I jot down the most important points I want to make in the chapter and use that as a working outline.

With this solid foundation, I begin to write. Of course, I continue to do research as I write. Often I’ll find that I still need to fill in more details or check additional facts. And even after all the chapters are finished, I continue to do bits of research because many of my captions contain material not in the text.

1 comment:

Mark Herr said...

"That’s a good question, Mark" never fails to make me smile. Putting the "pun" in "punctuation".

Good answers to the question. I appreciate the time and effort. The legwork involved in non-fiction writing really uses a different part of your brain from fiction writing.