In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
The novel has been set aside in a desk drawer since late May of 1999, when the first draft was finished. Work on it has been delayed by circumstances beyond my control, but eventually I hope and expect to spend a couple of weeks in western Pennsylvania, where I’ve been given conditional permission to do some ride-alongs with the State Police.
There’s something to be said about researching too much. But what if you don’t want to research at all?
Okay, here’s the deal — for the most part, I prefer not to do much research before I begin a new writing project. Yes, even if there are aspects to my latest project that I probably should research. Yes, even if I know at some point down the road I’m simply going to have to to research one or more aspects of my story.
Some people spend too much time researching. They don’t want to actually write, so they research week after week after week, feeling like they’re writing, feeling like they’re getting something done, which they’re actually not.
I’m usually on the other end of the spectrum. I just want to start writing. I don’t want to do any more brainstorming or outlining, or, yes, researching. I’m interested in my characters, in the central conflict and growing tension, in the emotion of my story.
Who the hell cares if I don’t get every detail exactly right?
Sadly, the answer is a lot of your readers will care.
This is the part about avoiding research that can bite your ass as a writer. Especially if you’re writing a story or novel in the real world, you need to get as many of your details right as possible.
Because it’s very well possible a wrong detail will break the magic for many of your readers. A reader will be enjoying your story, but then he or she will see an error in your description of a city or of a time period or of a car or of a style of clothing, or whatever — and the magic is instantly gone.
A few readers might even put down your book at this point and think, this author doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so I’m going to move onto a different story.
You. Do. Not. Want. This. To. Happen.
I know you might not want to hear it, but sooner or later you will need to do research on aspects of your story you don’t know or understand. At some point of the process, research is vital to you doing the best job possible as a writer.
But here’s the good news — you can do the research not sooner but later!
It is not essential that you necessarily conduct your research for your latest writing project before you start writing the opening sentence.
If you’re like me, and don’t necessarily like to research all that much, do what I do. Write the first draft to the best of your ability, putting in as much as you know in terms of the research aspect, making up a few things when you need to, and then do the research later in the revising process!
You don’t even have to do research before the second draft. You could even be further along, be in the fourth or even the fifth draft, until you do any serious research.
I mean, I would get around to the research eventually. Don’t have the entire novel super polished, only to then have to go back and cut long passages and add new researched information in a way that ruins some of the work you’ve already done.
But if you don’t want to do research at the beginning, that’s totally fine. Write the first draft, finish the first draft, and then get around to the research part later if you want to.
Just make sure you do the research at some point in time. Your readers will thank you for it!
2 thoughts on “If Research Intimidates You, Write the First Draft Anyway”
Great post, Brian. I agree completely. Research is often vital, but first drafts aren’t there to be perfect. Sitting down to research can halter your actual story telling process in the early stages. x
Thanks so much for reading!