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Friday, January 19, 2007

Research and Learning

One of my favorite things about being a writer is the opportunity to learn new stuff on each book. Not just craft things or structure or plotting or whatever. I mean actually learning about new topics. Research. :-)

I used to do it on my own. As an example, when I was in junior high, I had shark dreams all the time that left me terrified. I went to the library, checked out every book they had on sharks, read them all, and haven't had another scary shark dream since then.

It's tougher, though, to find the time when you're working full time and are tired when you get home. And when there are so many other things you need to do. Writing, though, is like giving yourself permission to take the time to learn. I've always had an eclectic set of interests, my college transcript will show you that, but I say it was all preparation for being an author. (Just an aside, I needed 180 credits to graduate. I had 240 credits--without a minor or second major.)

Some of things I've written about, I already had an interest in. Like the nanotechnology stuff in The Power of Two. I already had the basics when the idea for the story came to me, so it was just a matter of refreshing my memory and learning some more specific details. This book also had me researching the Maldives, wine and tropical fruit. :-) Anyone who's read the book and remembers the scene where I used the fruit will know why I'm smiling.

Sometimes, I only need to research a small detail. Sometimes, I have to do wider reading. It depends what I already know and how big a part it plays in the book. If it's just a small point, I try to quickly look it up and move on.

I have a research folder in my browser bookmarks that is "bulging" with websites. I have it broken down farther into categories and a lot of those have sub-categories. I collect URLs. :-) I have things bookmarked that I might never need to know, but I have the site saved anyway because it offered good information and it might come in handy some day. Like my latest find--a weather guide for sailors. I haven't had a character who's a sailor yet, but you never know.

I also have a folder under "Research" that I've labeled "Book Specific." It's stuff I looked up for a particular story that I can't see myself ever needing again. But. But you never know. If another question ever comes up on nanotechnology, I'll know to look in my TPOT folder because I almost never purge a bookmark. :-) Just in case.