Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Which Comes First, Writing or Research?

First of all, forgive me -- I am blogging from a smart device today...

In a recent online chat, many fellow children's writers were in a "chicken and egg" type of debate. The question -- which comes first, the writing or the research?

The original post suggested to write the story first, then do research. And I just finished reading Stephen King's memoir of the craft, On Writing, in which King suggests a similar approach (write with the door closed).

However, I'm not convinced that there is a right answer to this question (much like the actual chicken and egg debate). And, I even speculate that King would agree -- if you are writing about a subject largely unfamiliar to you, basic research must come first.

Of course, King's experience and advice is rooted in fiction writing. As someone who writes both fiction and nonfiction, I'm inclined to say that research almost always comes first when writing non fiction. The reason? The details you find out often change the entire course of an article or even present the "angle" you'll want to take.

The reason this question resonates with me? I'm working on a few multicultural tales from cultures I'm not as familiar with. Usually, I like to write 'what I know' -- but sometimes, assignments come along that offer the opportunity to explore a setting, culture, or character that's new to me. So, research (at least a little) often comes first.

How about you? Which comes first? Does the process change if you're writing fiction set in New York vs. a short story set in Nairobi?

Let's debate. And pardon me if it takes a moment to respond -- remember, I'm using a tiny keyboard and completely preoccupied with my new son's first day of school in America.

Wonderful world, indeed!

5 comments:

inluvwithwords said...

I agree, Miranda. I don't think there is a "right" answer. I think the process can change with each individual project. I'm certain I have done it both ways. I'm very much a "whatever works" thinker.

Claudine Gueh said...

Hi Miranda,

For me, freewriting on an idea works first, then a bit of general research on a topic, then actual writing, then actual research, then actual revising ...

But I think if it's working on an article, with its topic involving an unfamiliar culture, research probably has to come first.

Marcia said...

I think it varies with the project. When I wrote a historical novel about German immigrants coming to WI, I did a lot of basic research first. I knew my MC would be shaped by her experiences, and I needed to know why Germans were leaving Europe in large numbers in the late 1840s and 1850s. I had to be able to create the setting in both her particular German state and the new state of WI. I also knew the research could suggest plot points. Research doesn't just help you get the facts right; sometimes you can't really get the story without it.

Miranda "Sibo" Paul said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. You all have such good points! It's a good reminder that the "formulas" to writing aren't as important as those for math. Every story, article, and piece of writing is different, and requires its own process.

Allyn Stotz said...

For me, I'm like Claudine, however I usually start with research first, then a little writing, then back to research and so on.

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