How to write a book: Research, 2/3

If you missed last week’s thrilling episode of the Overboard Blog, you missed the first of a three-part series on how my first book, came to be. Seeing Project Joseph go from concept to print was a big thrill, and as I have started undertaking my second book I thought it would be cool to share with you the lessons I’ve learned about book writing. I’m no pro, but maybe like me, you too have a book project that’s been brewing in your mind for a long time (or like me, you’ve started several books that still remain just-started!) but you’re just not sure how to turn those ideas into book text. Check out all three weeks of this series and hopefully you’ll gain a few insights to get you going.

If you’ve already written your book and you are considering trying to get it published, be sure to visit this page for publishing info.

And while I’m writing about things that have nothing to do with this actual blog, let me remind you to subscribe to this blog so that you can receive e-mail updates any time we change things up here. If we add any content, our e-mail subscribers get first notice. You should also subscribe to our e-mail newsletter list (these are two different sign ups, both on the right hand side of this page) and get updates and info about all things Overboard, including discounts on new products and insider info that we won’t let you share with anyone (unless they have a pulse and are breathing. But apart from that…no one!) So join the club(s) and keep up with everything Overboard.

Research, research, research

My wife had the privilege of attending a women’s retreat weekend with one of the Christian world’s most prolific fiction writers — Karen Kingsbury. This woman has written a mucho-lotta* books and has some great advice for writers. She told my wife that before she writes a book, she pours herself into researching everything about her book on the front end. For example, if she was going to write about a youth pastor caught up in a ring of middle school espionage and political sabotage (and by the way Karen, I know you’re reading this and I think that would make an excellent book!), she would spend weeks researching youth pastors, interviewing actual middle school spies and maybe even trying to watch them up close and in action. She wants to make sure that when she sits down to write the story, the characters come to life because her research makes them so real.

Whatever you are writing about, make sure you do your research. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, get your facts straight. I hate reading a book that I’m really drawn into, and then come across something that is factually inaccurate. The error often jars me out of the book and back into reality — makes me wonder if the author really knows what she is talking about. It’s really irritating.

If you’re writing and telling Bible stories in your work, I think it can be especially easy to refer to those passages inaccurately because our memory isn’t always as sharp as we think, or because someone told us the story wrong and we just repeat what we’ve heard. I remember reading a book where the author “quoted” the Apostle Paul as saying, “Money is the root of all kinds of evil.” What the Apostle Paul actually said was that it is the “love of money” — not money itself — that can lead people into all sorts of sin. This author probably used that line because he had heard it preached, he had read it in another book or seen it stitched on some wallet in the Christian bookstore**. A little research could have saved him some trouble and helped make his point accurate and strong.

When you research, make sure you use reliable sources, not just the ones that agree with your perspective. Internet research is a huge factor in gathering data, but remember, sometimes the internet is like those magazine at the check out line at your favorite grocery store. So even though you want to illustrate your point with the story about the baby boy born with the alligator head and the feet of a poodle, be sure to back up the data with multiple, reliable sources.

I have an awesome editor (more about that next week). In chapter four of Project Joseph I told the story about one of my modern-day heroes, Scott Rigsby. Scott is a double amputee who eventually completed the Kona Ironman Triathlon. During his journey, he received some inspiration from a runner’s world magazine spread on a female amputee, Sarah Reinertsen. However, in the first draft of my book I stated that Sarah had attempted but never completed the Ironman event, thus inspiring Scott to be the first amputee to do so. That statement was true based on the article I was reading. However, that article was looking only at data from Sarah’s first attempt in 2004. In 2005, Sarah did complete the Ironman Triathlon, becoming the first female above-the-knee amputee to do so. My editor caught my mistake and I was able to give due-credit to Sarah and represent the story of Scott even more accurately. Research is crucial.

Once you’ve tackled your research, you need to blend that data into your outline. If you have a solid outline (step one), your research will naturally fit into the various sections of what you’re already been working on. For example, in Project Joseph, I did a little bit of research about famous people and their views about pain. I compiled that information into my document and then, because my outline was fleshed out more effectively the second time I sat down to write the book, I was able to place it in the proper part of my outline. I worried about smoothing it over and making it fit the flow of text after I started writing. But my writing was better because I did most of my research ahead of time.

In fact, I think having to stop and research something really busted up my writing habit and caused some unnecessary distractions. Squirrel! By following the advice of someone who has written a few books, my book got better. And today I can tell you that Project Nehemiah is miles ahead of Project Joseph in the time it will take to write it — I think start-to-finish I will have this book done in about 3 months instead of 11.

One more research tip: If you’re writing about something you love and are passionate about, the research won’t seem like work. Both Project Joseph and Project Nehemiah are concepts and ideas I am passionate about. Researching for them has been a joy, not a labor. Even though it’s hard work, I love it. Make sure you are writing about what you love, it will make the research more compelling and relevant to you, making your book more enjoyable to the reader.

This concludes part two of a three-part series on how to write a book. You will now be returned to your regularly scheduled programming.

Overboard Ministries exists to urge believers to get out of the comfort of the boat and to start living their God-desgined life out on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom. Go ahead and take the plunge — life is better on the water!

Joe

* “Mooch-oh laut-toe”: Sometimes one language just isn’t sufficient to express an idea. In such instances here at Overboard, we combine English and Spanish to express the magnitude of our feelings. In this case, Karen Kingsbury hasn’t just written “a whole lot of books”, she’s written a “mucho-lotta” books. Clearly, the double language reference indicates a greater magnitude than any one language could have conveyed.

** What are some of the goofiest Christian bookstore items you’ve ever seen? Tell us about them in the comments section.

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3 Responses to How to write a book: Research, 2/3

  1. Joe…great post. I need to be reminded to consider a broad spectrum of research. It’s too easy to find research that agrees with my thoughts and rubber stamp it!

    *At our local Christian Book Store I saw an awesome harvest costume for kids. It must have been for Samson or something because it was basically a muscle suit. I wish I was still 10 years old!

  2. joeacast says:

    * My all-time favorite Christian Book Store item was a sign posted above a row of books: “Self help”. I seriously laughed out loud. Seems ironic that in a bookstore that’s a reflection of Christian living in which we are to depend on God and His power there would be a section of books about how to not use that power and depend on self. I’m sure that wasn’t the point of those books, but it sure made me laugh. I also like all the westernized Jesus dolls where he is pasty white with blue eyes and golden locks of hair.

  3. Pingback: How to write a book: Writing (3/3). | The Overboard life

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