Friday Reads · On Writing

#FridayReads: Research for my new book

I’ve been tweeting very quietly the past few nights about the new book project I’ve been working on. This has been a book idea that I’ve been kicking around for a little while now. An early draft of the opening was even used as my final fiction project for undergrad (and was ultimately the project idea that helped get me into Goddard). So how does this whole starting a new project thing work for me, anyway? Well, you can have the girl take a break from her MFA program, but you really can’t take her out of the MFA way of doing things.

Seriousness aside, I even have a Pinterest board for Hallucinogen.

This week’s #FridayReads is a list I’ve complied to help me research this new project. I tackle some big, dark issues–things I haven’t experienced personally but know that this is a story that needs to be told. The following list is incomplete and, for me, too heavy on some subjects and not focused on what I need to make authentic characters. This is the real problem when it comes to writing outside our comfort zones, outside of our own experiences: becoming authentic.

To combat this, I’ve added the following memoirs to me reading list:

  • In My Skin by Kate Holden
  • Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Sofran Foer
  • How to Stop Time: Heroin from A – Z by Ann Marlow

Since my writing so is so character driven, memoirs are always my go-to for understanding experiences outside my own. Not only do I get to digest the experiences of these memoirists, but I also get to learn from their voices and the way they tell their stories.

But memoir is only going to help with one aspect of this project. For the rest, I’ve put together a smattering of literary fiction, dystopian, and young adult novels as a jump off point for inspiration, as a way to learn new techniques, and insight into what has already been done before. The positive of never shutting off an editor brain is the comparison between what was done and what could’ve been done better is always there. I’ll be learning from:

  • Smack by Melvin Burgess
  • Zero K by Don De Lillo
  • Barkskins by Annie Proulx
  • The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
  • The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
  • The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi
  • Candy by Luke Davies

Even though I’ve started to outline the manuscript and even started to write the first draft, these books are still going to be important to read. The first draft is always, always for the writer. As I work my way through this reading list I can make notes for myself on ways to improve scenes, on ways to change things around, or even add in new scenes when I go back to edit.

Doing research is such an important part of pre-writing that I rarely hear authors talk about. Even when we’re writing what we know, it’s important to hear opposing opinions or even see the topic from a different perspective. Otherwise, how are we going to be able to truly write fiction (instead of a semi-fictions novel that’s mostly just our memoir)? How are we going to write actual truths, instead of our own truths?

Research your books before you write them, writer friends. Read broadly and deeply. Read outside your genre and inside your genre. Read nonfiction. Understand who your characters are and who they aren’t. Understand exactly what your book is about and become an expert on the subject.

Learning is never, and should never be, over for writers.

What other pre-writing steps do you take before you start new projects, if any? If you don’t take any pre-writing steps, why not?

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