Research in writing

While in college, I did a lot of research. As a creative writing major, I was required to do less research than other majors, but I still did quite a bit. Most of my classes required some sort of research at some point. The stories I wrote probably required the most. Okay, maybe not the most, but still a lot. I was never one to simply write what I know. The stories that came out of me were much more a sort of a vomiting of images that were sifted through and pieced together into something coherent. That sounds pretty bad, but a lot of my classmates had a very similar process.

Most of the time, the images that came up in my imagination had little to do with my own, direct, experiences. They were of people living lives in cities or farms or some semi-fantastic surrealistic expression of lust. Since this was the case, I had to do a lot of learning in order to make these images believable. If I were writing about a journalist living in a big city, writing a piece about a sous-chef whose insides seemed to have simply exploded, as college-aged male with very limited knowledge of journalism and especially of being a woman, I had to figure what all that meant and how to convey it properly.

At first, this idea of research came to me as a chore, a roadblock to the creative process that I took very seriously and never wanted to impede, and, in the beginning, it very much could be interrupted and even lost given the right interruption. After having written countless stories and essays and poems and other, unidentifiable things, my creative process developed a sort of dependence on research. I even began to enjoy the process of starting a story, developing the characters with the knowledge I had on hand, and then, when my own experiences ran dry, starting my search for what I didn’t know, which was always nearly anything.

I had a story that was a part of a larger collection of stories that I’d written as part of my senior year in college that had its own smaller story nested in it. This smaller story has to do with a little village that I’d based on some research done for a different assignment. This village was one that had a very specific bird migrate through, and had been part of the village’s annual calendar for a very long time.

I remember coming up with this idea, somewhat inspired by earlier research, but then, realizing I didn’t know anything about the bird or the village or if anything even close to what I was writing existed, I started looking up migration patterns of birds in North America, like this one. I discovered that the Pacific flyway exists and that several species of bird fly from Central America to Canada even Alaska at certain times of year that connected with what I was writing in my story. The details that I had completely missed, I was easily able to fill in and/ or fix.

This type of relationship to knowledge has always stuck with me as incredibly satisfying. It also gives rise to the desire to write stories simply as an excuse to explore, to learn, to experience, no matter what the content is about. This almost always led to awareness of what would start out as secondary interests, such as conservation efforts, which are always important. I mean secondary as in that it came to mind only after researching, not importance.

I know research might be a slog for a lot of people, but, at least for me, when I have the added context of making a story from what I’m researching, I almost automatically am interested in whatever I’m researching. I don’t know if this will always be the case, but, so far, it’s worked out well.


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