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Research and Re-research by Megan Stark

February 25, 2014

My writing process always stems from my belief that writing is hard. Even writing badly is hard. So to write well requires a whole lot of dedication and persistence. For me, it looks something like this:

I read an article or hear an idea that makes me think. (The articles and ideas that don’t make me think I discard. Probably too readily.) The beginning of my writing process is reading, reading, reading. I keep track of the topics that interest me in a RefWorks folder where I can easily export things I find. I do this because I am really annoyed at having to re-find something later. But then, I print out everything and make lots of notes in the margins. I underline the phrases I like. And then I think. And read some more. I usually read a lot of the works cited in the articles I like. I see if there’s anything else the author has written that is equally interesting. I believe that I do extensive researching/reading in order to give my brain the space it needs to sort out an idea before I start writing. When I write, I am very organized because I know that I will want to write straight through the piece without distractions. I create a rough outline with sections and I almost always know where I will place all my cited material before I write my own words. This sounds strange, but I think it works because I have given myself so much time, by reading and researching, to think through my response. I already know what I will say, and how. It’s just a matter of pulling the pieces all together. When I begin actually writing, I usually do nothing else for days. I write all hours of the day, although I write my best material late at night. I like to think about more precise vocabulary and more elegant sentences when I’m getting ready for bed. I almost always discover that I have repeated the same word too many times in a piece, and so I rely on my before-bed practice (and a very handy thesaurus app) to correct this problem.

I do not draft anything by hand. I keep a word file going and I back it up many, many different ways.

Once I consider the piece finished (which is a hard decision to make), I let it sit for a few days. I re-research the topic using insights that struck me as I was writing. If I find more material, I integrate it. I fuss about formatting (more than I should) and I double and triple check my citations. I even google some of my phrases to make sure that I have kept my voice separate from those I cited. I share this with select, trusted colleagues and I almost always take their advice without question. That is the value of a good reader! At the very end, I write my title. I think titles are terribly hard and I feel a lot of pressure to find a pithy, clever, enticing title. I am not ever very happy with my title. When I submit my writing I don’t like to share this step with others. Just seems like an unnecessary jinx, you know?

Megan Stark is an Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Services Librarian at the Mansfield Library.

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