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How Do You Know When You're Done?

by Barbara Wood last modified Mar 13, 2017 11:59

A reader who is writing her first novel (about feudal Japan) asked me how a writer knows when she’s done enough research and it’s time to start writing. The rule of thumb on research is, if you aren’t learning anything new, you’re done.

Several years ago I visited Cancun as a tourist, and while visiting the ruins at Chichen Itza, I wondered who had built this amazing pyramid. Even more intriguing was why, and how? A little research led me to a new interest, and out of that sprang the inspiration for my novel, “Woman Of A Thousand Secrets.”

I knew zip about the Mayans and so began my research at a very basic level. I read books, magazines, websites, even interviewed experts on this fascinating subject (and hearing myriad theories on who the Maya really were and why they vanished so suddenly and mysteriously). At first, I wrote down absolutely everything I found. I jotted names, dates, cities, gods, customs, rituals. If the Mayans owned it or did it, I wrote it down.

But after a while I began taking fewer notes, and when I checked a book out of the library that was a comprehensive study on the Mayans, and found that it offered little new, I knew that my research was done and writing could begin.

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