Always do your research

“By seeking and blundering, we learn.”

~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, novelist and dramatist.

Good, thorough research is a critical part of the writing process — regardless of whether the book you’re writing is a work of fiction or non-fiction. There is nothing more damaging to a writer (aside from plagiarism!) than to misrepresent a technical, geographical, or historical fact.  A word to the wise:   always assume that your readers are smart.  They may possibly lose interest at the first blatant mistake.

Research, if done properly, will likely take more time than actually writing the book.  It may seem like a gargantuan effort but, in the long run, it will be time well spent.  Hopefully, the following research tips and tools will help to make the process less daunting.


  1. Compile a list of all the areas in your book that will require additional research, outside your own personal area of expertiseThis list will not likely be exhaustive because as you navigate through your book, you will no doubt feel compelled to add to the research. A word of caution:  since most writers are avid readers and information seekers/gatherers by nature, it is easy to forget that “thorough research”  does not mean “excessive research.” Don’t get carried away. Remember, there’s still a book to be written!
  2. Develop a research methodology or strategy. This will assist you with categorizing your research and will save you a lot of time.  Decide how you want to handle your primary and secondary sources. When interviewing a source, determine in advance what questions you want to ask. Do you want to quantify your research over a period of time? Should you segment your research — chronologically, by theme, by geography, by chapter, or by subject matter?  Personally, I favor the “by chapter” approach.  I write very detailed outlines (for each chapter) and use the chapter outlines as a guide to determine the primary and secondary resources that need to be gathered.
  3. Compiling the research. Whilst there are many writers who function quite well in a state of “organized” chaos, I strongly recommend a more streamlined approach.  There is nothing more annoying than misplacing interview notes or a critical quote citation!  Many writers use several sets of index cards (one set for note taking, another for bibliographic info, and so forth). The cards can be color-coded by chapter, theme, or subject matter. I suggest that they be stored in small folders or pouches, so that nothing gets lost. Another option is to tack them to an easel, storyboard or wall.  In lieu of index cards, a notebook and folder will do.  Moleskines are widely used by writers.  Of course, you could always opt to go paperless.  A digital voice recorder is a must-have for face-to-face interviews.
  4. Information dissemination.  Again, you have to know where to draw the line.  Carefully pick and choose the most relevant information from that mountain of research material you’ve gathered and put the rest away.  You don’t want  your book to be a regurgitation of facts and figures. 
  5. Citation, citation, citation.  Although your book is a unique and creative endeavor, do not take liberties with other people’s words.  Quote your sources accurately.  And remember, there is a fine line between paraphrasing and plagiarism (more on that in a later blog post), so do be careful.
  6. Where to get information? As you know, the Internet is a vast cyberlibrary …. however,  you have to be very discriminating as to the reliability of  site/source.  And, then, nothing beats spending a day at the library (with books that you can touch and feel!).  The archives found in most University, public, and private libraries contain a treasure trove of source material.  If the information you seek is historical in nature, contact/visit the appropriate historical society  — a great source for historical maps, documents, photos and diaries.


Internet: In addition to the standard search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, AskJeeves), here are a few additional sites that may be of help: – unlimited, free access to books, famous quotes/proverbs/maxims.

Google Books – free access to full or partial text of  print books (and out-of-print books).

Encyclopedia Britannica – ahhh, I used this all the time … back in the ’70’s!  This is the online version.

Wiley Online Library – great for historical research. – a good genealogy source.

Software Tools:   To help organize your bibliography and reference citations (especially helpful for writers of non-fiction), you may want to check out Bibus bibliographic database software or EndNote. If your research involves any quantitative analysis, software programs such as Excel, Paradox, SAS or SPSS will be helpful.

I will sign off with this great quote from Ray Bradbury:

“You must write every single day of your life…You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads….may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” 

The perils of procrastination …….

Do you know how easy it would be to succumb to the temptation of relaxing on the beach?Especially here in South Florida, for heaven’s sake!  Just five minutes away from the ocean.  Yet, here I sit in my study – at least ten hours a day (5 hours a day on the weekend).  Believe it or not, I have been battling procrastination all of my life.  But the clock is ticking. Time is breathing down my neck, egging me on.  That’s why I’m so über-organized.  I need Structure:  outlines, lists, schedules, index cards, storyboards —whatever it takes. Without it, I might as well put a “Gone Fishing” sign on my door.

Why, oh why do writers continuously “suffer the slings and arrows” (certainly not of “outrageous fortune!”) of Procrastination?  We like to call it  “writer’s block.”  That’s a more palatable term for the “condition.”  Call it whatever you want.

According to psychologists, one of the root causes of procrastination is fear —  fear of failure or success.  The price of success is responsibility and recognition.  Procrastinators who fear success are essentially afraid of the fallout. Which brings us to the subject of perfectionism.  Procrastinators tend to be perfectionists (although perfectionists are not necessarily always procrastinators) – anxious for everything to be perfect. And since it’s virtually impossible to be perfect, why bother trying?

Okay, let’s presume that we understand the reasons why we do what we do.  The more salient question would be “how do we overcome procrastination?”  Here are some of the steps that have worked for me:

  1. Set a timeframe for yourself, with a beginning and an end.
  2. Visualize the end result you want.
  3. Set realistic goals and tackle them, one at a time.
  4. Pace yourself.  This is not a marathon. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that “haste makes waste?”
  5. Break up your writing time into segments, so that you allocate time to do non-sedentary activities like walking, gardening, swimming , or whatever you enjoy doing.
  6. Talk about your writing with friends, family and colleagues. Brainstorming always helps.
  7. Yes, write outlines, lists, index cards – whatever structure works for you. Like it or not, structure helps. A lot.
  8. Make a public commitment.  This is not for everybody. As you may have noticed (see the lower right side of this blog site), I have committed – publicly – to completing my non-fiction book (When the Child Becomes the Parent) and my novel (Finding Grace)  by 2013 and December 2012, respectively.  I did this purposely because I know that – come hell or high water – I will do it.
  9. Make commitments to others. In addition to my own work, I have committed to ghostwriting two client book projects (one is in progress, due for completion just before Thanksgiving) and the other is tentatively set to commence in January.
  10. Laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the ride. Presumably, we write because we enjoy it. When you love what you do, nine times out of ten – you’re good at what you do. So, chillax.
  11. Breathe. Not the type of breathing they teach in Lamaze class. I’m talking about Zen breathing techniques.  They work.
  12. Eat light, healthy snacks.  They give you energy.
  13. Hydrate yourself.  Whatever libation works for you.  Despite my many tongue-in-cheek jokes about single malt scotch and fine red wine, I actually drink tons of Earl Grey tea while writing for hours on end.  Getting up to put the kettle on is a great way to stretch your legs.

Hope this helps!

Best of luck,                                                                                                                                    


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Outlines, Schmoutlines!

I’ve been on the computer (writing) all day and just noticed that the house is in complete darkness. It’s 9:00 pm and, apparently, I’ve been in writer zombie mode (in the zone) –trying to make up for lost time after my darling feline toppled one of my storyboards and the hundreds of index cards that I had to painstakingly affix to the board (hence the discovery that pins were not a good idea, with four-legged creatures trolling about). Okay, maybe I exaggerate. There were only 76 index cards, but still…. I was mightily “annoyed” (for want of a better word). To those writers who, like me, are a little (ha!) bit OCD, you will no doubt understand that the cat-induced chaos disrupted my morning. Nevertheless, once each card was taped back in its proper place, all was right with the world. And this is where I segue, albeit not very gracefully, into the subject of book organization – namely, outlines. “Seriously?” – you might ask (while rolling your eyes). Yes, seriously. Outlines do work. Promise.

Outlines help to organize your thoughts and develop the message and flow of your book so that it’s not a jumbled, disjointed mess of creative ideas that, although no doubt brilliant, simply do not make sense. I realize that outlines may not be every writer’s cup of tea, but for those who are trying to tackle a book project and are feeling overwhelmed, try writing an outline. Humor me. You might be pleasantly surprised.

By the way, if you’re going the traditional publishing route, both the literary agent and publishing house will most likely want to see a book outline before determining whether your manuscript may be worth their while.

I know it may be tedious, but the more detailed your outline, the easier it will be to write the book. Outlines are truly efficient writing aids.

So, let’s begin at the beginning :

The “raison d’être”

1. Prepare a statement of purpose for your book and, subsequently, for each chapter. This is also part of the “book hook” that will either attract or repel a potential publisher.

Book Outline & TOC

2. Develop a preliminary Table of Contents. It will help to structure your thoughts logically and give you a cursory overview of your book – i.e. The Big Picture. This is your overall book outline.

3. Establish your chapter titles (they don’t have to be exact, and can be revised, as you progress with your book).

4. Determine who, if anyone, will be contributing to your book (i.e. writing the Foreword or Afterword).


5. Yup, more outlines. Prepare a brief outline for each chapter. Each chapter should have its own statement of purpose (which ties to the overall book’s SOP).

6. The chapter outlines should ideally not be in bullet format. “Talking” outlines are best. This is a chapter-by-chapter summary, in paragraph form, explaining the What and the Why of each chapter, followed by points covering the important events (fiction) or areas (non-fiction) of the chapter.

7. Each chapter should have a concluding sentence.

Book Conclusion

8. All chapters should lead to this final conclusion – whether the book is either a work of fiction or non-fiction.

References, Resources, Bibliography, Photo Citations, Index

9. This is a very important (but admittedly tedious) part of the book outline. Gather your sources (primary and secondary). List your photo citations (don’t wait until you’ve written the book …. do this in advance). And develop a cursory Index.

Again, this is an organic process …..your outline(s) will change as you progress with your book. This is okay. The purpose of developing an outline is not just to appease a publisher. It’s much more basic than that. An outline is, in my opinion, an indispensible tool to help you … write your book!

And, one more thing: “mind maps” help you to visualize your ideas. You may want to consider using some mind mapping software.

To each his/her own.

Word to the wise – keep your pets away from your easel or storyboard!!!!

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