One thing where my writing always falls down is research. Research for writing has always been a difficult proposition for me; despite knowing that it’s key to the work being realistic, and often inspires more ideas, rather than less, I still have a horrible track record with putting in the research for a project. But that’s a mistake, one I’d like to fix in the coming years.
One way to get around this is to use research and resources a available to me as a student in my work. For example, a lecture on CIA involvement in South America inspired some alterations to a dark fantasy pilot I want to write, and I’ll hopefully be doing more research on that topic as the idea matures.
Another form of research I’ve been consisting lately is into media studies and social justice, particularly in the area of troped representations of less privileged groups. A sci-fi idea I’m pursuing is aimed towards exploring ideas about technology and humanity, but the story itself involves disability. I pursued the idea without the intention of saying anything about the nature of disability, but the story includes it as a major metaphor within. Now, I’m looking into tropes and cultural mythologies about disability in order to ensure that this project isn’t misinterpreted, and also doesn’t play into tropes about disabled life. And if I can’t make it work, I may ultimately have to scrap the idea altogether; I’d rather drop a decent idea than add to the multitudes of works that continually speak for the disabled experience from a privileged, nondisabled point of view.
One impediment to putting in adequate research is time. Any time I take for myself is already divided amongst a multitude of projects without additional time set aside for research, and I’m at that phase in my career where honing my skills in practice is of more importance than developing my skills in research, as extensive research can’t help a badly written piece. I would love to dig into history and science, but the value it adds to my work doesn’t seem to make it worth my time – yet.
Another is resources. As a student, I have access to my university’s library and archives of academic journals. A particular professor is able to give me access to one of the best libraries in the country, but only while I’m enrolled in one of his classes. I can afford Internet access, which many people might not be able to. And I have relationships that give me access to resources I can use. So in some ways, I have a very good set of potential wells of information.
However, I am pretty limited to those resources. Monetary issues limit both my access to unborrowable materials, as well as access to primary research – that is, research that requires you to be there and see things yourself. I’m also limited by my experiences and point of view, which also requires research: reading and talking to those with different experiences, allowing me to get a sense of their headspace. As writing fiction requires all sorts of characters, I can’t get away using only my voice and life without caricaturing someone else’s.
I hope that research becomes less of a task as I practice. Until then, I’ll have to use every source I can, and learn to build access to new ones. Because if you don’t know what it is you’re talking about, it usually means you should shut your mouth until you do.