Research Your Book Without Even Trying

This week’s video encourages you to research your book before you even start thinking about writing—and offers techniques on how to do it.

Video Transcript:

Even when we write what we know, most books usually end up requiring us to do research, to one extent or another. Personally, since most of my stories seem to take place either in straight historical settings or fantasy settings based heavily on history, I always have—or get—to research a lot of history. Aside from the fact that research keeps me away from the actual writing for a couple months, research in itself usually isn’t that much of a burden. I mean, really, I get to sit and read and call it work.

But if there’s one thing I’m big on it’s economizing time. So if I can save myself some researching steps before I’m even ready to start working on a book, you know I’m going to do it. So here’s how I do some early research for projects without even trying. Let’s say I’m planning to write books set in or influenced by ancient Rome and World War II—which I am. These stories aren’t likely to manifest for several years at least, so it would seem the best I can do would be to make a list of possible reading sources for future reference.

But let’s one up that by being practical about this. Since I’m obviously interested in these subjects, I’m very likely to be reading books about them prior to my dedicated research—and I am. So instead of saying, “Oh, yeah, I’ll come back to this book when I start researching for real,” why not start taking notes right now?

Whenever I run across a factoid that strikes me as interesting, inspiring, or that has the potential to bring verisimilitude to a setting, I record it. If I’m reading a library book, I note the page and paragraph, then transcribe it into the project’s research file. If it’s a hardcopy book owned by me, I highlight the pertinent passage. If it’s a Kindle book, I highlight the passage and “share” it on a private Twitter account, from which I can then just copy/paste the text. In a few years, when I’m actually ready to start writing these stories, I’ll already have a hefty research file waiting to inspire and inform my work.

Tell me your opinion: What are you researching for your work-in-progress?

Research Your Book Without Even Trying

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I have done this without even meaning to! I want to write about things that I’m interested in, and if I’m interested in it, then I’m already reading books and websites and blog posts about it.

    When I first started developing the idea for my current WIP (a fantasy story that is based on Finnish and Sami folk legends), I got the idea because that was my current interest. I already had folders full of bookmarked websites on my browser, YouTube playlists of Finnish and Sami folk music, Pinterest boards of pictures, etc. When I sat down to start writing, I began narrowing my focus, and made some special folders with specific notes – but I’d already done the bulk of the work.

    When I decide to start writing a new book or series, I will do this same thing, but intentionally this time. If I did it accidentally this time, I’m excited to see how much more streamlined I can make the process by focusing ahead of time. Thanks for this tip, and for bringing to light something I was already doing and didn’t know it! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland says

      The whole “write what you know” guideline is really more about writing what we love. When we do that, the research becomes all but effortless.

  2. I’ve just discovered OneNote for this – I can have a folder for each project, and can put all kinds of links, documents, and quotes in. Best of all, I can have it on the cloud, and access it anywhere – even from my phone. Now I have tons and tons and tons of research notes – that’s a good thing, right? 😛

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I hear all the time that OneNote is awesome. I tried messing with it a few years ago, but just couldn’t get it to work out for me. Maybe I should try it again.

  3. You really should try OneNote again. OneNote 2013 is unbelievable – ten times better than 2007, which I had for a couple of years. I’ve had OneNote 2013 for about a year, and it just makes me so much more organized.

    The fact that you can put anything in OneNote – videos, mp3’s, PDF’s, docs, Excel spreadsheets, is awesome enough, but what makes the difference is the search option, so you can actually FIND your notes. Plus, it not only searches text, but also handwriting, docs, even images.

    You can also try services like Pocket, Instapaper, or Memit, which let you send capture web pages, etc to your own web page, so that you can read it later. If you make sure to tag everything, it’s a good way to store all the Youtube videos, web sites, etc., in one place.

  4. Great post, Katie!

    I couldn’t get OneNote to work for me either, and it’s not great for capturing online links when you come across them. Not that I’ve been able to figure out. I like Evernote. Takes a little getting used to but I love that I can clip online links and catalog them as well as add manual notes and catalog them to the same project.

  5. I also recommend EverNote – and you should try Pocket ( as well (since it works nicely with many platforms, offers tagging and much more – for free!).

  6. Oh I love research and just diving into history of this or that. I like my characters world to be detailed an true to the time and place. A lot of work by I just adore doing it since it enriches the story and explains the character. Not full descriptions of of every room in the house or dress or whatever but just enough to give a feel of the setting. Just like with the characters backstory where you slowly add and not throw it all on the reader at the same time.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Research is one of those pleasures you don’t have feel guilty for. It’s vital to a novelist’s work, and what novelist doesn’t like to read?

  7. Brigitta M says

    My favorite resource is people. It’s amazing the questions people will answer if you just ask. It’s why I always carry a notebook with me (I’m old school– kind of) so if I happen to come across someone who is an expert on a topic that I’m interested in (not necessarily a “story in mind” but who knows what ideas will spark) I’ll just tell them I’m a writer and if they have time I’d like to ask a few questions.

    I’ve only had one person turn me down and that’s because they were running late for something unrelated, but they did give me their e-mail address and I asked (and received answers for) questions that way.

    Sometimes it’s luck, most of the time it’s deliberate. There was this one time I wanted to ask questions of a vet and went right to the office, dropped off a box of doughnuts and said “What are the odds of the doctor here answering a fiction writer’s odd and specific questions about cats?”

    The receptionist replied, “Depends on the doughnuts, but even from here your odds look pretty good.”

    Sometimes it’s not even for a specific story, I’ll just have an odd question in my head.

    The first time I tried this, I was nervous. However, I’ve yet to see a doughnut fail me and I’ve been using this technique for quite some time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very smart! In my experience, most people LOVE talking about the subjects they’re passionate and knowledgeable about. Why not collect info from them?

  8. Thanks for these tips. Since I am turning out more of a historical fiction writer day by day. These tips will be really helpful.


  1. […] All writers start with ideas and research. Roz Morris tells us how to capture the emotional essence of your ideas in your notes, so you remember why you thought they were brilliant, and K.M. Weiland shows how we can do research without even trying. […]

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