Describe your process for researching and outlining your book. What do you do to stay organized? Do you use a software like Scrivener? Index cards? Sticky notes? Giant posterboards taped to the wall?
I’ll begin this post by saying, I love research, and I always have. I’m a private person, preferring to slip through each day in invisibility, something that’s becoming increasingly easier as I get older, when age seems to change us into the barely discernible when walking down the street or waiting in a queue, but that’s another story. As I was saying, I’m a private person who believes others have the same right to privacy, so I shun gossip and have no desire to know anything about others other than they choose to share with me. This is where researching is contradictory to my nature. Once I have a story idea for a work of fiction I’ll strive to make this as authentic as possible. Several years ago I wrote a short fiction story about an Aboriginal massacre, setting this event in an actual town one hundred years earlier. The research for this story was almost as extensive as the writing itself, as I researched Aboriginal names and language for that area, customs, clothing etc. So deep was my immersion into the background that, in the end, I wasn’t completely sure the event hadn’t happened as I’d written it.
My fondness of research is probably why I lean toward nonfiction and speculative nonfiction as my preferred genres, and how easy is it to research these days when almost everything I need is at my fingers tips, just a keystroke away.
My method of research is to explore every possibly for factual information on people, places and events that can be cross referenced for accuracy. One source is never enough for me, particularly in these days of digitised records that can be altered or added to by individuals as it only takes one error and this will be repeated as fact by all who follow after. This is a frequent occurrence on Ancestry.com where information can be copied from tree to tree until the blurring of records become a new truth. To guard against this I will spend hours, days if necessary, following up family trees completely unconnected to the one I’m working on, following branches and twigs to ensure I'm actually climbing the right tree. In the event I’m unable to prove or disprove, I choose not to use the information.
I also use Trove, the Australian digitised newspapers site, which is still free to use. Trove is created and maintained by the National Library of Australia and helps people find and use resources relating to Australia. More than a search engine, Trove brings together content from libraries, museums, archives and other research organisations and gives you tools to explore and build. I spend a lot of time on Trove as it helps me tie key events with people with citable references – very useful in adding dimensions to characters in speculative nonfiction.
When writing Tasmanian family histories, The Hidden Risks, Villains and Valour, there was no better better place to begin than with convict and pioneer records in the Tasmanian Colonial Links database and associated sites.
Another site I use is The British Newspaper Archive but this is a user pays site so I wait until I've got a number of things to follow up.
By far the most used resource, although the results can be serendipitous, is Google or other search engines and I can spend many hours searching for that elusive – just one more thing.
All of the above are used in conjunction with print reference books, a costly exercise at times as my local library doesn't carry out of print books so often needed for reference.
As I gather material I cut and paste blocks of information into a reference document for that particular project or for a specific family line, with handwritten notes in my journal that is also frequently dotted with the simple maths I use to calculate age and years of birth and death. Another form of cross referencing.
Additonal to this is the myriad scraps of paper that I tend to scribble on when in a hurry, often indecipherable at a later date but it's part of the literary litter of the writer, well this writer anyway, and a habit I haven't been able to break.
When I have enough factual information I begin writing, putting it all into one document separated by chapters and with a living table of contents for ease of navigation. If I reach a point in writing that I feel something needs to be fleshed out, I return to research, always on the lookout for that one fact that will add punch to the story.
With the writing completed I then transfer to contents to a new document in publish/print ready format and research possible illustrations to use for added interest. All the research material used for that project is archived for future reference.