The other day a friend and I wondered whether a certain writer would make deeper exploration into some topics in her work in progress. “I certainly hope so,” my friend said. “But doing research is a curse to some people.”
Say what? Despite my periodic reluctance (like when I’d rather sleep), I know that I must conduct inquiries into as much subjects as possible, no matter how long it takes. I want my historical fiction, my biographies, even my contemporary fiction to be authentic, believable, to have worth. I sure don’t want my books to read like lies. OK. I admit it. I like research.
It’s OK to paraphrase a little bit of material and place it in one’s books, within reason. But can — or should — you pull all your info from other people’s material, rewrite it and call it your own? I think that’s lazy. I’m just saying.
Examining primary material — old newspapers, journals, diaries, letters (even on the Internet within reason), traveling to places of origin when possible, interviewing folks — aren’t these tasks and more still performed by writers who are serious about their work?
I ask because a nubie (and self-centered) writer told me, “I hate to do that. I hate to read. I hate history. It’s easier to just get it from somebody else’s stuff.”
Hmmm. I even looked up “research” quotations on the Internet to find folks who’d help me argue my point. Playwright Wilson Mizner said, “If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research.”
I’d never heard of Wilson Mizner, but his quote made sense.
Writer and folklorist Zora Neal Hurston, whose work I’m quite familiar with, said, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
Well, what do you think? How much research do you do? Is it worth your time, weary eyes, and hard work? Or not?
ELEANORA E. TATE is a children’s book author who has won numerous awards, including a CBC/NCSS Notable Children’s Trade Book in the field of social studies for Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! and a Parent’s Choice Gold Seal Award for The Secret of Gumbo Grove.
Eleanora is retired from Hamline’s faculty.