How I Do Research For My Novels (ft. a NaNoWriMo Update)

How I Do Research For My Novels (ft. a NaNoWriMo Update)

Happy November! Or, as I like to call it, “No”-vember: this is the month I have to say no to all other obligations because I’m writing FIFTY THOUSAND WORDS. It’s NaNoWriMo season.

Here’s my month so far in numbers:

  • 16,797 words written
  • 437 words deleted because I made the mistake of rereading my work
  • 7 caffeinated drinks
  • 3 caffeinated chocolate bars (My college cafe sells these and they’re addictive. My eyes are pretty round to begin with, but when I eat these my eyes get VERY wide. That’s probably not a good sign. I might bulk order them for myself anyways.)
  • 6 hours of sleep a night PLUS a one hour nap (This is not a tenable situation.)
  • 2 college essays written
  • 2 college essays to write this week (What was I THINKING)
  • 3 times I’ve wanted to throw the entire book away
  • 2 times I imagined seeing my novel on the shelves
  • 1 time I convinced myself that I could never be an author and started researching careers in costume design
  • 1 time I remembered I couldn’t sew and went back to my manuscript
  • $11.29 spent on stress-shopping at Goodwill. I bought sweaters, because I’m attending college in Massachusetts and it SNOWED last Friday. So that’s where I’m at.

But in all seriousness, I really love November – the month is completely self-aware that it’s miserable. October is the perfect month, especially here in New England: you’re never sweating, but it’s warm enough that you can throw on a denim jacket, step outside, and bask in the beauty of the trees turning colors. Every single day in October is one of those, “You should go outside and appreciate the weather!” kind of days.

There’s no pressure to appreciate anything in November, because it’s gray and snowing and the sun sets at 4:30. But that’s exactly what I appreciate about it! Because then you get long nights with glowing lights and writing, snacking on left-over halloween candy. November is the first month you get to feel cozy.

Right now, I feel immensely fulfilled. I love writing everyday. When I go to bed, I feel satisfied; I am doing my life’s work.

Writing a novel is weird, though, because for a month I’m a freshman in high school, a mother, and an astrophysicist. Writing requires you to wear a lot of hats. We’ve all read books and been like, “That doesn’t seem realistic,” because an author didn’t do their research about what it’s really like being a sword-maker in the 16th century.

So how do you do research for books?

Untitled design

1. Take Classes

I admit I’m in a great position to take advantage of this, considering I’m in college, but I stand by it regardless of what age you are: take classes in things that you might need to know for your book! Right now, I’m taking Survey of the Universe, a beginner’s astronomy class. I’m learning so much, and though I’m still faking my way through understanding physics for the sake of my book, I no longer have to pretend when I write about my main character’s love for the stars – I grew to love them too. Also, hopefully the science in my book is a little more accurate now.

2. Read Relevant Books

What’s this?? Me, a writer and reader, recommending that you read more books?? Did  you expect anything less? The library exists, and it’s full of knowledge. Go check-out a book about something you need to know, take some notes, and then get back to writing.

3. Sit Quietly in Public Spaces

I’m not kidding. Go to a cafe, buy a cheap coffee, open up your journal, and don’t put headphones in. Just listen. Listen to the cadence of dialogue. You might hear a compelling snippet of plot, or you might just learn how certain people speak. What does a kid actually sound like? What do teenage girls say when they’re talking to each other? Does a grandmother switch her tone depending on whether she’s talking to her daughter or her granddaughter? Learn how people speak. You can also repeat this exercise for different senses. What are people wearing? What does the cafe smell like? What exactly does a table feel like? Then make yourself put it all into words.

4. Reread Old Journals

When I’m reading about the young adult genre online, I see a lot of adults asking how they can write realistic teenagers. It’s true that there are elements of being a teen that change very quickly: what slang is in, which memes are viral, and which threat we’re most worried will destroy the Earth before we can legally drink. (Global warming usually takes the cake, but threat of nuclear war is a real contender!) For those issues, you can consult your local teen, though I wouldn’t recommend it: by time you write it, it’ll probably be outdated.

But I do have some good news for anyone who wants to write about children: you’ve already lived your research! You were once a child! And if you’re a writer now, there is a  strong chance you kept a journal as a kid. Give child-you a pat on the back (that is, if you can find a time-machine.) You’ve inadvertently done a chunk of your research already.

I often reread my journals to remind myself what I how I was feeling and what I was thinking about when I was fourteen. Reacquaint yourself with an age – read your journal. (And if you never kept journals, I’d suggest starting. Maybe one day you’ll want to write about the age you are now! Also, they lead to fun discoveries later. I just dedicated four pages of my current journal to debating whether or not it was morally ethical to ride horses. FOUR. And I did not reach a conclusion.)

5. Talk to Relevant People

If you have friends or family who might have insight to particular aspects of your novel, ask them questions! (Just be sure that they want to help, and try to not rely only on people you know to make sure your book is authentic – especially if they’re a member of a minority and you’re asking them questions specific to that experience. That can be overbearing. Google also exists, and there might be people on the internet who’ve already volunteered their time to answer your question.) My main character gets migraines, so I recruited my sister to learn more about what they actually feel like. You can also reach out to experts in different fields in you have a more specific or technical question.

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So, those are five tactics that I use to research. I typically do research before I’m writing (to set myself up for success) and after writing (I fix facts in the editing process). I don’t do research when I’m actually writing because I have I don’t have time! Because I always draft during NaNoWriMo! Heavens knows why! I have 33,203 words left to write! In twenty days! Haha!

Thanks so much for reading. Are any of you doing NaNoWriMo? How do you do research for your books? Let me know in the comments! Until next time, you can find me on Pinterest Etsy, and Instagram.



3 responses to “How I Do Research For My Novels (ft. a NaNoWriMo Update)”

  1. To be relevant or is the question.
    BTW for Music fans: this is worth seeing:
    Bruce Springsteen was born to run, but he could never stray far from his blue-collar roots in Freehold, New Jersey.

    Now the Jersey boy and the Central Jersey area he put on the map are the subjects of “Springsteen: His Hometown,” an exhibit at the Monmouth County Historical Association in Freehold, opening Sunday.

    “I don’t think you could see an exhibit like this anywhere else,” guest curator and Monmouth University professor Melissa Ziobro says. “The sense of place is very present.

    “There are people around the world singing about our Turnpike and our Route 9,” she adds.

    The first floor is dedicated to his life and career with objects from the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University, which is the official repository for the singer’s artifacts and even objects donated by the icon himself.

    Liked by 1 person

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