I’m a big fan of doing research. But I’m such a fan that I’m tempted to get stuck in the research phase. It’s fun. It’s fascinating. And it’s a reason to put off writing—especially writing something major, like a book.
Are you researching or procrastinating?
If you’re working on a doctoral dissertation based on academic research, then you probably have to finish the research before you start writing. For the rest of us, the boundaries between research and writing are often porous.
Writing a Book Is Not a Linear Process
You might think that the process of writing a nonfiction book is pretty simple: you do all of your research, then you write:
But for most nonfiction authors, reality looks something more like this:
If you don’t believe me, look at the data from my Nonfiction Author’s Survey. Hundreds of nonfiction authors responded to this online survey: these are the type of people who typically do a lot of research.
These are their responses to a simple question: did they finish their research before writing?
The smallest wedge (16.5%) of this pie chart represents the authors who researched first, then wrote.
More than 60% started writing while still conducting research. And nearly a quarter thought they had finished, only to return to the research after starting to write.
Here’s some advice: don’t try to finish the research entirely before drafting, because the act of writing may open up new areas to explore. Start working with that research!