Doctorow on Research

I’ve known several cases of writers who decide to write about something and they research the hell out of it and when they’re ready to write, they can’t move because they are so burdened. I start writing. Whatever I need somehow comes to hand. – E.L. Doctorow

I’m entering that phase of research before starting a writing project. Well, re-starting a project, actually. One of the stories in my collection, Migrations, is the beginning of a novella in progress on Roberto Clemente. So, I’m starting from those first fifteen pages. That project requires much more research, much like Migrations. As I begin the research, this quote from Doctorow, who wrote historical novels, most famously Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, struck me as odd.

I love research but can understand what Doctorow was saying. You can get bogged in it, partially out of curiosity and desire for learning, but also because the more you do it, the more you can procrastinate the writing. His advice makes sense. For me, I like to research generally and widely on the subjects related to my project before I even start thinking about writing. I focus on specific needs to help me structure the story and generate ideas. In the case of Clemente, there is also a need to read as much on him as possible. It’s important, though, to have a deadline for ending the research and forcing yourself to start writing. There is always time, as you write, to return to research if need be.

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