Research the Old Fashioned Way

I cleaned out my office last weekend after discovering there wasn’t enough room in my filing cabinet for even one more set of notes, one more receipt or one more measly bookmark. My drawers were full to bursting with paperwork I might need one day.

But since I usually only go to my file drawers when I want to put something away rather to actually retrieve something, I decided I’m keeping too much.

Office cleaning can, by turns, be fun and amusing or sad and nostalgic. Going through those paper piles of my professional life was like a mini “Joanne’s Life in Review,” calling to mind the best of times and crappiest of times.

Take for instance the contest critique of my unpublished manuscript calling my heroine stupid. I saved that one since I sold the book in question within weeks of the critique and it gave me an evil thrill to think I’d triumphed over the naysayer. Then there are the abundance of synopses for connected stories I’d penned in my effort to conquer synopsis format and sell a series. I love those stories-each and everyone that’s still unsold. They are real books to me and I haven’t gotten the chance to make them real books for readers yet. I hope I get the chance to do that one day.

Some of the more interesting finds were the notebooks I kept for earlier books-sold and unsold alike. There are pages and pages of research on a variety of story aspects, notes on hairstyles for historicals, notes on the hero’s profession for a contemporary. When did I stop keeping such great cheat sheets? The older the book, the better the research.

Now, I’d like to think that it’s not because I’ve gotten lazy that I don’t investigate as many plot points these days. I choose a lot of familiar settings to me so that I can draw the written picture quickly. And because I write so much every day, I like doing research now by calling experts in the field and having a conversation instead of having to write more words, a practice that doesn’t leave much of a paper trail.

But I rediscovered something interesting among all those old notes. There was a joy in making lists that I’d forgotten. A delight in bullet statements about my characters I’d gotten away from. My cleaning project made me put pen to paper again-instead of fingers to keyboard-to scribble an old fashioned list. I’m labeling this first one “Unusual Settings for Love Scenes” just to see what kinds of cool ideas I can generate for future Blazes. It’s not really research…more like brainstorming. But it’s a fun facet of writing that calls on different parts of my creativity than stringing words together.

So what do you say? Any great ideas for a good love scene? Enjoy the process of throwing out anything and everything and I’ll just go grab my pen…

This article was originally posted as a blog at Access Romance in 2006