Thursday, 8 September 2011

Early research, or indulgence?

I haven’t blogged in two weeks. I’ve done no serious writing for quite a bit longer. That’s partly because of the summer holidays, but also because I’ve finished my Stephenson novel (query letters and emails out now) and I’m fishing around for a new major project.

There’s no shortage or variety of ideas on the scratchpad I keep for the purpose (which I regularly transcribe onto a typed list) but nothing has yet sparked into something that is likely to keep me engaged and interested for perhaps a year or more, or that I feel I can add fresh illumination to by my treatment or insights on the subject.

What I am doing is reading. A lot of news reading at the moment, but also reading around some of the themes and topics I’ve earmarked as possibilities, just to see if I can find a way in, a thread that could lead me to further creative exploration. For example, I had half an idea that I could base a human interest story around a workhouse – not one of the Dickensian era, but one of those that hung on into the twentieth century, even surviving in a few cases beyond the Second World War. At the moment I have only the faintest notion of how a story could develop; I’m waiting to see what might emerge from my reading into the subject.

Or so I tell myself. I’m enjoying the reading and the learning, but so far have failed to take a single note. Is this really early research, or am I just indulging myself, and putting off the more difficult task of getting down to write something of my own? Am I hiding from hard work, or in waiting for the Eureka moment?


I do know that once I get a clear fix on what I am going to write about and the general direction it might go in, my research will become more purposeful and the notes will begin to gather; but in this vague maybe-there’s-something-maybe-not phase my reading is annoyingly interrupted by increasingly loud whispers emerging, I guess, from the left side of my brain, which tell me I’m merely wasting my own time. 


  1. It's hard to zero in on a new project once you've polished and started querying a novel. Sounds like you have a lot of promising threads floating around, and I'm sure you'll be able to pull them together.

    When I'm in that situation, I force myself to write sentences that could become plots, whether I think I'm ready to do it or not. Then I pick one sentence and force myself to add some detail to the idea. If I wait for inspiration to come to me, I get nothing written.
    Best of luck, David!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Anne, and for sharing your technique. It's amazing, isn't it, that once you force yourself over the starting line of writing you can feel yourself moving - just like starting a long run, I guess; the impulse is to put it off, but once you've gone the first few yards it's not so bad. To extend the metaphor, the pain really starts when you are near the finish and you're not sure you're going to make it.