Everything is Research

I read magazines and newspapers by pulling out articles that I think I could use to write new stories or articles. I have a bookmark folder on my computer full of hundreds of blogs, articles, and little tidbits. I already have more ideas than I can work on in a year, but I keep collecting them. Sometimes I have to annotate my ideas or  sketch out a quick query letter. I’m always looking for a better way to organize these ideas.

Research is nothing more than stealing from multiple sources, right? Is there anything wrong with taking another writer’s article and offering a fresh perspective? It’s just a matter of doing your own legwork — conducting your own interviews, etc.

Personally, I ‘steal’ from a lot of places:

  • Press releases — Oh, I adore press releases. A good press release almost always includes some sort of problem that a company’s product or service fixed, is fixing or will fix. Those problems are prime writing material.
  • Wired magazine — This is one of my favorite magazines. It and a few national magazines provide lots of opportunities for taking a very broad story and localizing it.
  • Blogs — I read a lot of blogs. More than I can count. I bookmark a good percentage of posts, whether for good writing styles, good ideas or good resources.
  • The public library — Sometimes I go to the local library and just wander around, reading the backs of books. I’ll come home with a big stack of books to read and ideas to write.

I’m also that person who always has to have a notebook for new ideas, and they tend to pop up in the most random of conversations.

Where do your ideas come from? And how do you track them?

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  1. Dawn Allcot   •  

    People. Other magazines. Websites (esp. newsy ones). Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of ideas from interview sources from assigned stories… one of my last questions has become: “So what else of interest is going on in your [company, church, health club, etc.] ?”

    I know the writing community is divided on this point, but when I tell people I’m a writer, they always have stories to share. For all the freaks you have to deal with, some of the stories are worthwhile. (That’s why I keep asking–that and I’m a glutton for punishment.)

    As far as tracking them… I’m in search of a good system, actually. Right now I’m using an excel document with notes… “Story ideas” “Markets I’d like to write for”… when I get a match (ie, a story idea that goes to a market I’d like to write for) I query.


  2. thursday   •     Author

    I agree that it’s totally worth sorting through the sorts of stories that people with ‘interesting states of mind’ have to share. College professors especially so. I had one that I had to sit through a banjo demonstration to hear about him drinking with Jackson Pollock. Totally worth it!

  3. Steve Davis   •  

    I watch the news all the time with notebook at hand ready to jot down new ideas. Like you I am looking for a fresh point of view or how to relate it to my locale.

    The daily newspaper is just a goldmine of ideas. I especially look for the offbeat of “this day in history” sort of thing.

    I track them by clipping and putting in a file folder. Sure I end up with some duplicates, but never ever toss out an idea is my motto. You never know when you can write an article based on it.

  4. Jerry Waxler   •  

    I am SO impressed that you have figured out how to store all this information. For me, gathering information is the easy part. In fairness, I do far less trolling than you do. Most of my research time is spent reading books, and some blog hopping. But I have not spent enough time developing a good system for managing it all. Good job developing and religiously following such a system. I assume you can get it back out of the pile, when you need it. Right?


  5. thursday   •     Author

    Getting it back out again is the trick. It’s doable, but I find that it’s much easier when I’m searching on my computer. They need to invent a search function for my filing cabinet.

  6. veinglory   •  

    When I started writing it was like I finally had an excuse for all the “research.” I just love… stuff, facts, happenings. I remember when Laryy King was interviewing Octavia Butler and he assumed she read a lot of non-fiction for research, she said quite tersely that, no, she read it because it interested her.

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