Monday, November 16, 2009

The Perpetual Researcher

Hello, Ethel. Welcome back! Sit here at the end of the table, get your thoughts together while I order you something to drink, and tell us more about research. (If you missed her first installment on research, click here.)

OK, you have our complete attention.

"Research is not a thing you do.

"Research is a passion for information and the truth it represents. This passion translates into a frame of mind where every wind that brushes across your cheek whispers secrets, opens doors, dispenses treasures. These all enrich your person and give your project unexpected substance and relevance.

"I recall one day, years ago, fuming because I had to take time out from researching the book I was writing to take my mother-in-law to the doctor. Sitting in the office waiting, I browsed through a magazine in search of diversion. Instead, I found an address that promised to hold important materials for my research.

"In the end that one address led to another which led to another and another… This little discovery proved to be one of my most valuable finds in the whole process for that project. If I hadn't already developed what I've since come to call the mind of a perpetual researcher I might have missed it altogether.

"When you research, you must submerge yourself in your topic. As we used to say, you learn to eat your topic, sleep it, think it, breathe it. It consumes you. No matter whom you meet or talk with, you always have one ear open for the magical words that tell you this person my very well be bursting with some expertise, opinion, or experience you are searching for - or they may know someone else who is.

"Become an expert at steering all kinds of conversations in the direction of your topic. Whether they know it or not, you are interviewing everyone you talk with. You are searching their minds and hearts for fresh nuances and personal connections that will give your work both depth and breadth and make it different from anything else on the market.

"Of course, there's more - TV programs, radio talk shows, books, newspapers, magazines, seminars, guided tours, even junk mail. All these and many more contribute to the flood of information that surrounds us. Each source is a potential gold mine for the writer with antennae tuned to the topic that holds you in its grip.

"In the introduction to one of his biographical novels about Michelangelo, historian/novelist, Sidney Alexander talks about walking through the city of Florence in search of his hero. He called it doing research "through the pores." The passionate researcher opens up himself to it all and lets it invade his mind and his person.

"Ideas fill the air we breathe. So do the sensory observations that bring our writing to life. The whole world is one vast library just waiting to be consulted, but we never know which corner will yield the treasures we are looking for. So, as researchers, we keep the eyes and ears open, the antennae attuned. We never assume that some resource we encounter has no value for us. Rather, we dig it all up, take it apart, question it, give it a chance to make our work great. We become The Perpetual Researcher."

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