I’m learning more and more about the importance of research for writers. Since my main project right now is historical non-fiction for children, it’s essential to get the facts straight. Since my brain leans to the “artsy” side (and I’m 48, and apparently that’s when you can’t remember hardly any damned thing…), I find I MUST write down things I want to remember. This results in lists, notecards, notebooks, computer notes, post-its, etc. We do what we must.
When I did my original research using family papers and other texts, I used old-school note cards, just like I did in high school and college. Thank goodness I bothered, because I got a question this week regarding one of the facts in my manuscript. It was about a reference to the main character’s interactions with her grandmother and how her grandmother made delicious doughnuts. I nearly applauded (to no-one) when I was able to go right to my handy mini file box and pull out just the reference I needed.
The main type of research that is a must for writers is reading. It sounds simple, but my writing improves when I spend time in book stores and libraries finding materials that are comparable to the genre in which I’m working. I spent some time last night in a bookstore reading children’s books–a good stack of them.
I read about early air travel, women’s rights, famous politicians, a kind bean (yes, a bean), and finally, Helen Keller.
This beautiful book by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares (published by Disney-Hyperion) represented so much of what I’d like my writing to be. The illustrations were captivating and descriptive and truly conveyed emotions. The manuscript gave a detailed account of Helen’s amazing life, including her relationships with her parents, her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and others throughout her life. It was inspiring–a real gift to children and adults alike. Thank you, Doreen and Matt!
Reading Helen’s Big World encouraged me to really consider the importance of research. It is not only important to get the facts straight for legal and historical reasons, but also for the purpose of getting the incredible truth out there. Accurately portraying Helen Keller’s (and so many other historical people’s) life opens minds and hearts to possibility. In the case of Helen, it’s possible to overcome challenges. It’s possible to learn. It’s possible to impact others. It’s possible to know beauty, regardless of your circumstances.
Children (and adults!) need these messages, and I want to be that kind of messenger–that’s why I write children’s books.
Next week, I’m working research into my routine. We’re fortunate to have a fantastic local library, and I plan to camp out there to read another stack of excellent works. Here’s to research!