BLOG: Avoiding the Rabbit Hole!
Readers, it’s that special time of year—GIVEAWAY TIME!!! I’m giving away three of my Antonius Trilogy books, and whoever’s name is randomly drawn on the evening of September 8, 8pm EST will get to choose which of the three books they want. If you’ve already read all three, remember that books make GREAT gifts! To be included in the GIVEAWAY, all you have to do is be a subscriber to my website, so please tell friends and family about this opportunity! I promise not to send spam—just a single blog-post weekly is all you’ll get from me.
This week, I’m making headway on my blog series about research. To many of you research is probably as popular as a dirty word. But sometimes at school, work, or if you’re a writer, it’s a necessary evil. For me, research is both a joy and privilege. A wise friend from my Church once shared some wise words: “Knowledge is never wasted”. He’s right. It’s not. And research is how we gain knowledge for whatever use we have for it.
Whenever I’m researching for a book project and I wander into a museum, my poor husband (who is a VERY patient man, by the way) knows that a small museum=2 hrs., a mid-size museum=3-4 hrs., and a large museum=a full day, so bring lunch money and a cell-phone for YouTube videos. But excellent research =phenomenal novels, work well-done, and impressive GPA’s, if you’re a student.
My biggest problem is that I love research and often slip into “rabbit holes” that take me away for the important things on which I need to be focusing. In a museum, for instance, I've started looking over Republican Roman statuary to determine if there's traces of ancient paint, only to find myself distracted by treasures from Caligula's pleasure boat from Lake Nemi.
I slipped down a rabbit hole.
So let’s look over some simple things that help me as an author to stay on track. And if you’re NOT an author, you will still probably still find some useful nuggets here for how best to go about sorting through hours of tedious research.
Avoiding the Rabbit Hole
by Brook Allen
NUMBER ONE: For this first point, we need to wrap together two important criteria: love for (or at least an interest in) whatever you’re researching AND a jump on the research BEFORE you begin writing. The writing and publishing process is as fast as a speeding glacier, so be sure that whatever subject you’re dealing with is something you don’t mind sticking with for a very long time.
I allow myself a research jump-start before I write anything. For my present project, I allowed six months of pure research—reading books on my subject, visiting museums and sites pertaining to it, and locating online sites and resources that would benefit me throughout the process. In the latter, many of these resources turned out to be people—curators, historians, and even National Park personnel.
That’s the cool thing about research. You meet amazing people, discover fascinating facts, and visit incredible places. So put DOWN your pen initially and give yourself a fabulous subject and time to find out a zillion things about it!
NUMBER TWO: Once you’ve got a lot of research under your belt, the writing can begin. For those of us with day-jobs, this is where it gets dicey, schedule-wise. Though you have begun plenty of research in advance, you are mistaken if you think it’s done. Actually, I’ve found that fine-tuning my research in my second, third, and fourth drafts is some of the most important work I do, which winds up fleshing out my novel in the areas of chronology, character, and world-building.
So here come the big sacrifices—sports, TV, naps… You get my meaning.
It’s really critical at this point to set aside time for both research AND writing, because once the writing actually starts, research DOESN’T END. Stewardship of time is painful, but once it becomes more habitual, it’s a sacrifice that is worth it when you see your end product becoming not only a reality, but one of excellence.
NUMBER THREE: Here’s where we need to differentiate between self-discipline and self-control.
Self-discipline is what we discussed above in NUMBER TWO--an action that when repeated frequently becomes habitual. But self-control is what we need when the urge to leap down the rabbit-hole grips us. NUMBER THREE combines these two.
First, we’ll need self-discipline again to set goals to finish numbers of pages or words when writing. This summer, I began a new writing strategy. I began with sixteen thousand words I’d written from March until the end of May, 2021. From July 3 until August 1, I wrote FIFTY-THOUSAND words in my current work, placing me now well over sixty-thousand words. I was AMAZED! We can do incredible things if we seek methods that help us to succeed. So goal-setting and keeping the self-discipline for your stewardship of time from NUMBER TWO helps create successful writing habits.
Now, for the self-control element. When writing AND researching it’s just too easy to slip down that rabbit hole and lose your way, as well as precious time. A good example is that a couple of weeks ago, I was researching horse-drawn carriages used for longer journeys in the early 19th century—specifically America. While reading, I discovered specific horse breeds to pull that carriage. Wow. Then, on one of those web-pages was the type of harness and tack used on that specific horse for that particular carriage!
I’d fallen into the rabbit hole.
Remember that with writing, we don’t want to spend unnecessary research time and we don’t want information dumps. This is where I have to exert self-CONTROL to stop myself and stick to the pertinent research at hand: horse-drawn carriages used for longer journeys in early 19th century America.
NUMBER FOUR: Get an accountability partner.
While talking on the phone this past winter to another author, she mentioned her “accountability partner” this, and her “accountability partner” that. I’d heard of accountability partners, but thought that was only something one needed in Alcoholics Anonymous!
Was I ever wrong.
Signature Analytics has a superb webpage on the importance and benefits of accountability partners within businesses. After discussing this notion a little more with my friend, I wondered if I could find one. Fortunately, I belong to an author support group (another fabulous thing I recommend for writers!) and when I asked whether someone would be interested, it turned out that someone else was looking for the same thing. So that’s how Wendy from Melbourne became my accountability partner.
What do we talk about? We discuss goals, how we can meet them, we share frustrations and how we can best manage them, we share triumphs and experience the joy in achievement, and once we even agreed not to be upset in the outcome of an award for which we were both finalists. And on the day of the award ceremony, when I was just stepping off of a plane in Spokane, WA, it was dear, dear Wendy who messaged me all the way from Australia to congratulate me. We respect one another and do our best to support each other. It’s never a competition—it’s a journey together.
Take a look at Signature Analytics’ webpage about accountability partners and you’ll be impressed at how it can motivate. Such motivation and the instilled determination that is contagious from working one on one with another writer has helped direct me in a continuous pathway toward my fourth novel’s completion and prevented me from dropping into rabbit holes.
I hope this blog has been motivational and interesting enough for you to use portions of it for your own purposes—as a student, co-worker, or writer. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. And I’m not done with my research blogs! Coming up, I’ll still be sharing about my incredible visits to the archives and reading room at the Missouri History Museum Library! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Lastly, don’t forget the GIVEAWAY!!! Be sure to tell friends and family to subscribe to brookallenauthor.com!
And READ ON, everybody!!!