Book Your Research

[found on; by J.T. Ellison]

“If you’re planning to embark on a career as a writer, there’s something you need to know: When it comes to research, you’ll be paying your own way. Authors are faced with many economic challenges, but one of the hardest is that they often have to use their own cash to get the wheels spinning.

  • Go to the library: This is an obvious solution, but one that we sometimes overlook, especially since we can go online and find the answers we need. But a good library, and librarian, can help you find little details you would have missed otherwise. I like to read old newspapers to get a sense of what’s happening in my character’s past, and microfiche is the best way to do that. Plus, libraries often have experts in for talks.
  • Meet your fellow writers: Almost every professional writer’s association has an online listserve full of scribes who are experts in their own fields. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached out to a doctor, a lawyer, a weapons expert or former police officer through these groups. And almost all the organizations accept associate members. International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime are all excellent groups that even have “writer’s universities,” in which they offer classes on writing and various research methods. Best of all, you get to rub elbows with your favorite writers!
  • Go online. . .but be careful: You can find out anything online, but be sure you double- and triple-source your information. Just because it’s on Wikipedia doesn’t mean it’s accurate. When I started doing research on Scotland, the first thing I did was add Scotland’s major newspapers to my RSS feeds. It allowed me a snapshot of the country, and the political undercurrents soon made their way into my story. You can become an expert pretty quickly by putting in the effort.
  • Go back to school: Through a writer’s organization or your own diligence, you can find tons of online classes that are relatively inexpensive and will give you a fuller understanding of your topic. From writing to guns to romance, anything and everything is offered.
  • Talk to the experts: Regardless of what you’re writing about, there’s nothing better than finding someone who’s lived it. Weapons experts, cops, FBI agents, SWAT team members, doctors and lawyers all have one thing in common: They want you to get it right. Just don’t forget to say thank you in the acknowledgments.
  • Reach out to readers: Blogs are a great way to get information, with the caveat that you need to double-source, just like with Wikipedia and Google. Most blogs are subjective, so you can’t use them as gospel. While you’re getting to know private experts, don’t forget to talk to people at your local bookstore. Most folks who work in bookstores do so because they love to read. Which means they’ll be a font of information for you to mine. Check your local independent bookstores as well as the chains to find people who are fascinated by your topic and can point you to the best books to use for research.
  • Explore local resources: There are innumerable ways to do research in person in your city. Big and small towns have access to the FBI Citizens’ Academy, your local Citizens’ Police Academy and multitudes of other offerings. Don’t forget to attend author signings as well — your favorite author might have a tip or two for you to find the perfect research tool.
  • Meet some strangers. . .and some old friends: Even though many groups have moved online, there are still plenty who meet and mingle in person. The members tell stories. Lots of stories. They have professional speakers. They have archives. And they want to share this information with you. For that matter, don’t discount the ones around you when you’re looking to do research. I always check with my parents when I have a question. Send up a flare within your intimate circle, and see who knows what. This is especially good for places, because if you’re anything like me, your friends and family live or have traveled all over the world.”

To read more tips from DailyFinance, click here.

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Learning To Write

[found on]

On Learning The Craft of Writing:


First, there are entire books written on this subject, and it’s important to realize that any information provided here will be in greatly abbreviated form. With that in mind, the first step would be to read a variety of books on the craft of writing. On Writing by Stephen King, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, Creating Fiction edited by Julie Checkoway, and A Dangerous Profession by Frederick Busch, are but a few that I would recommend.  I also like Screenplay by Sid Field, which isn’t about novel writing, but has a lot of useful information. These titles are enough to get you started and there are countless other books on the topic that will help as well, for everything from creating characters to coming up with plots.


Second, you must read, and read a lot. Did I say A LOT? I read over a hundred books a year and have done so since I was fifteen years old, and every book I’ve read has taught me something. I’ve learned that some authors are incredible at building suspense (see The Firm by John Grisham), I’ve read others that scare the jeepers out of me (see The Shining by Stephen King). Some authors can weave an incredible number of story lines into a single, coherent novel, with all parts coming together at the end that makes it impossible to stop turning the pages (see The Sum of all Fears by Tom Clancy), while other authors make me laugh out loud (seeBloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore). I’ve also learned that many, many authors fail when attempting to do these things. By reading a lot of novels in a variety of genres, and asking questions, it’s possible to learn how things are done—the mechanics of writing, so to speak—and which genres and authors excel in various areas.

Next, focus in on the genre you want to write, and read books in that genre. A LOT of books by a variety of authors. And read with questions in your mind. In a thriller, for instance, you might ask: how many characters were there? Too many or too few? How long was the novel? How many chapters were there? Was that too few, too many or just right? How did the author build suspense? Did the author come out of nowhere with a surprise? Or did the author drop hints earlier? If so, how many hints? Where in the novel did he put them? Was the suspenseful scene primarily narrative or dialogue? Or a combination of both? Did that work? Would it have been better another way? Where did the bad guys come in? In the beginning? The middle? When did they first meet the good guy? What happened? Did the reader know they were bad? Did they do something bad right off, or was it something that seemed good at the time?

Then, read another thriller and ask yourself those questions again. Then read another and another and another and ask those same questions. And keep reading your entire life and asking questions.

Little by little, you’ll learn the process.


The final step is to write. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write, it’s just that simple. I wrote two complete novels and another book before I even attempted to write The Notebook. Those two novels are unpublished, but they taught me that I not only liked to write, but that I had it in me to finish a novel once I’d started it. Those lessons were important when I sat down to write The Notebook.

I write five or six days a week, usually a minimum of 2000 words, sometimes more. This section of the website, for instance, which took about four days to write, is about 20,000 words. When it’s finished, I’ll start writing something else. All people who regard writing as a profession write consistently. Those who regard it as a hobby usually don’t.

2000 words can take anywhere from three to eight hours. (I love those three-hour days, by the way, but my average is probably closer to five hours.) The actual time spent writing depends on a number of factors, including what I’m writing, whether the scene is difficult or easy, etc. No matter what, I try to maintain consistency in my work habits. And I’m always trying to improve, to try new things, to write a new story that is better than anything else I’ve written.”

To read more from Nicholas Sparks (including how to write query letters, and how to find agents, click HERE.

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Secret & Silent—Inspiration

“In fiction, I exercise my nosiness. I am as curious as my cats, and indeed that has led to trouble often enough and used up several of my nine lives. I am an avid listener. I am fascinated by other people’s lives, the choices they make and how that works out through time, what they have done and left undone, what they tell me and what they keep secret and silent, what they lie about and what they confess, what they are proud of and what shames them, what they hope for and what they fear. The source of my fiction is the desire to understand people and their choices through time.” 

― Marge Piercy, Braided Lives

What Goes In…Is What Comes Out

“To have output you must have input. It helps to go on a period of creative nourishment, or dolce far niente, clearing the brain. Go to bed with the cat, some flouffy pillows, tea and a book which could not in any sense be called improving. Read for fun for a change: superior Chicklit is good, or children’s classics. You are not allowed to try and analyse what the author is doing. After a good sleep, go and do something new, or that you haven’t done for a while….” 

― Lucy Sussex