All writers know the importance of accurate research

All writers know the importance of accurate research and it is even more vital if you are, for example, setting your novel on a Pirate ship or hanging in space heading for Planet Zob. Rarely can you find out such information from your fellow writers or friends (you really hang out with the cool gang, if you can.)

Luckily the Internet has arrived in time for us budding writers to save wasting our lives poring over documents like they did in The Olden Days or waiting for a book ordered from the library to arrive, by which time we’ve probably forgotten why we wanted it.

The Internet is a magical tool that has transformed the way we research at the flick of a wrist. Who knew that Eng Bunker, one of the first surviving Siamese twins, died from shock at seeing his co-joined twin dead beside him?  I didn’t, but I do now. Can I do anything with this information? Hmm, possibly store it for future reference, but probably not. Still, I enjoyed reading the article.

What about the household phrase ‘Jumbo sized’ derived from a circus elephant named ‘Jumbo.’ Incidentally Jumbo the Elephant was killed by a train, his torso was stuffed and he continued with the circus tour in absentia as it were? Don’t really know where I could go with that one, but I do know that another fifteen minutes of my writing time has passed me by, when all I really wanted to know was what the inside of a fairground caravan looked like.

I suppose research was ever thus, but the trouble with the Internet is

it’s sooo distracting. And I’m not talking about that summer dress you’re bidding on (don’t bother, it won’t fit you and you’ll end up putting it back on eBay) or the pinging of another email arriving that you just can’t resist peeking at, even though it’s likely to be an offer from a Nigerian Gent to part with all of your money in return for -well, nothing!

The world we live in is so interesting, and now it’s all on Google. You could spend he rest of your life just ‘Wikipedia-ing’ things, but it won’t get your book written.

So, turn off the Internet as you sit down to write and make a note of information you need to look up later. You can then do it on your mobile device, (of course you have one, you’re a writer) while stirring the gravy for dinner as you watch the tenth re-run of Come Dine with Me – the sort of multi-tasking anyone can do.

But always double-check your research, as the truth I out there, but the bit you read might not be it.  (What, you really believed all that stuff about Jumbo the Elephant?)

PS: Google also says there is no proof that little green men exist, so ‘Hah’ to that. I’ve been to planet Zob and seen ‘em with my own eyes. Truth, honest!



5 thoughts on “All writers know the importance of accurate research

  1. Hi Jackie, What a great post! You always make me laugh. And yes I did believe you about Jumbo the elephant! Did you really make all of that up? I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted in doing ‘essential research’ when I should have been writing. Like you I’ve got a store of completely irrelevant information as a result. When I started the novel I was so keen to put in what I’d researched and then I realised that there wasn’t much space in the book for that kind of background so I had to hack it all out again. So quite what I’ll ever do with the huge amount of information I’ve learned about Glastonbury, magic and witchcraft I’m not sure. Guess I’ll just have to write another book!

  2. Hi Jaxx

    Great post, as always. This is SO true! The internet is a dangerous thing and provides the perfect excuse to put-off the dreaded edits in particular. Of course I just have to read up about the leaked name of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s baby, don’t I? Even if I am not quite sure who the parents are or what they are famous for… That then gives me the excuse to look on Wikepedia to find out what the new mum and dad actually do. So then I think, whilst I am on here, I could look up who does the voice of Despicable Me, as I couldn’t quite place it when I caught five minutes of it last week whilst the kids were watching, and find out it is Steve Carrell. I notice he’s in the American version of the Office and then I wonder if Stephen Merchant, who co-wrote the UK Office has ever been married… So I Google Stephen and then… Well you get the picture. I can do this for HOURS, until there is no time left for editing and the only sheets I can think about looking at are the ones on my bed. I will try and take your advice and step away from the internet, other wise this year’s NWS submission won’t make it at all!

    Jo x

  3. Hi Jaxx

    I know you were a bit worried about this post but, believe me, you have nothing to be worried about. It’s a great post and, as Jo says, oh so true!

    I think the internet is definitely a double-edged sword. Having set my novel in current times in a familiar setting with characters doing jobs I understand, I thought I’d have little research to do. But how wrong I was. I needed to know what the time difference was between UK and New York. The internet told me. I wanted to know what time sunrise would be on the beach in October. The internet told me. I wanted to know how high a hot air balloon rises and what weather conditions are needed for a flight. Internet told me that too. I also wanted to know how long a body would lie dead before the people in the flat next door would smell it. The internet told me that too … but I felt very strange researching it!!! But, as Jo said, the internet also told me a million things about z-list celebs I’ve never heard of but simply had to read about.

    I attended a workshop recently called “How to be a Productivity Ninja”. It explored the concept of how email and social media are the worst distractors from being productive and had ways of dealing with these like turning off the sound (to avoid that tantalising ping) or, even better, having them closed while writing (to avoid the flicker of new information on screen distracting you). I’m going to do that. One day. I really am. Maybe not tonight. But definitely soon…..


  4. Hi Jaxx,

    Brilliant post and as always very funny and I’m gutted that Jumbo didn’t actually live forever in a taxidermists dream. I’m guilty as charged but it can also be a very inspirational thing the internet. I was double checking some research which my editor had questioned and came across some of the most horrific photos and information ever about the Victorians which I never knew so along came the idea for book 3 which now I can’t wait to get going on. The only problem is book one hasn’t been totally signed off yet and I’m only 35,000 words into book 2 so it’s going to have to be stored away somewhere until I get the chance to work on it. But good or bad I couldn’t live without the internet, how else would I procrastinate – housework just doesn’t cut it.

    Helen xx

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