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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Love it or Hate it, Research Can Block Your Writing


researchWriters who love research often don’t know when to stop. They never get around to drafting and editing.

Writers who don’t like research hope they won’t have to start. They can’t finish drafting because they don’t have everything they need.

Paradoxically, the solution is the same for both types.

Stuck in the Research

Some of my students and clients tell me they get stuck in the research because they love it and don’t want to stop. I gently tell them they may be stuck not only because they love it, but because they’re resisting the next step in the creative process, which is Incubation. (Stages of the creative process are described in Chapter 4 of AWB.)

To enter Incubation, you have to embrace uncertainty. You have to accept that even though you have all that information you gathered, you don’t know how it all fits together. Incubation is uncomfortable for everyone, but it can be excruciating for writers who like research.

puzzle piecesTo make the transition from research to Incubation, you have to be able to recognize when you’ve gathered enough puzzle pieces.

You have to know when to push yourself from doing what you know how to do – collecting puzzle pieces – and start doing what you don’t know how to do – figuring out how the pieces fit together.

Stuck Avoiding Research

Research is gathering puzzle pieces; drafting, which most research-resistant writers love, is putting the pieces together. How can we expect to put the puzzle together if we haven’t gathered enough pieces?

overwhelmMany writers who resist research think it will be boring, tedious and uncreative.

We can’t find an intriguing way into the research, so we skip that stage and try to go from idea (First Insight) to drafting (Verification). Then we wonder why we can’t finish.

You might think you can get away with minimal research if you’re writing poetry or memoir. After all, poem doesn’t require the months of research a nonfiction book will. And who’s an expert on your life if not you?

It’s true that different genres require different types of information and different research approaches, but every writer must do some research, regardless of genre.

When I was young, I thought I wasn’t interested in writing nonfiction because I didn’t want to do all the research. Ironic isn’t it that I’ve published two nonfiction books and the majority of my shorter pub credits are nonfiction?

Back in the day, I thought I’d write fiction where I could make everything up. But of course, good fiction requires all kinds of research.

So I thought I’d write fantasy and science fiction so I could really make it all up. But fantasy and science fiction require even more research.

quicksand canstockphoto0054324 (2)Research-resistant writers try to jump ahead, then get frustrated when our drafts drift aimlessly or lose energy and focus.

It can look like we’re stuck in the drafting phase. Truth is, we have no business being in the drafting phase until we do more research.

Want to Get Unstuck?

Whether you’re a research-loving or research-resistant writer, you’ll find a solution that gets you out of resistance and back into motion in our next post.

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