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Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 5: How to Escape the Blackhole of Endless Research

Find your experts before they find you!

At the end of the writing day, I usually spent half an hour or so looking through the manuscript for those marks that I only used in those circumstances, and then going through my books – or the net, or my acquaintance – for information to replace them with the real name, place name, or date or relevant detail.

Writing the Shakespeare fantasies, I answered most “how did they” questions of the everyday sort by using two volumes: Daily Life In Elizabethan England by Jeffrey L. Singman and The Writer’s Guide To Life in Renaissance England by Kathy Lynn Emerson.

More detailed questions or those on which the books disagreed, I made a note to investigate afterwards. One of the great advantages of novel writing is that you can always fix it until the book is finished. No one needs to know how many passes it took you.

Another good part of starting to write is that you start seeing what you need very clearly. This will allow you to ask the right questions of experts. What experts, you ask? The experts that you’ll discover. Or that, in some cases, will discover you.

Most experts are passionate about their subject, but could never write a novel. To them, you’re both fascinating and unreliable. You fill them with a desire to make sure you get things right.

So, where do you find these experts? Well, once you have a few novels published, they’ll beat a path to your door, usually starting with a letter headed, “I can’t believe you didn’t know that in winter they’d never burn that type of wood/cook with that type of fat/wear that type of coat.”  Treat those notes with respect. Explain the efforts you made to find answers and tell them how much you wish you’d had an expert on hand when you wrote the first book. Most people will offer to be on-call.

But what about that very first book? How do you find your experts then? First do a net search. There will be blogs about your subject, written by college professors, scientists or other experts, and most are amenable to a polite questions via email. Failing that, call your local library reference desk. They will often be able to connect you with experts. Failing that, call the local college and ask if they have an expert in x.