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Divide and Conquer, Through Thirds
by Tama Westman
As a freelancer, how do you calculate how much time and energy to invest in research for an article or story?
Even when writing a smaller word-count piece for a newsletter, e-zine or commentary, you want to input enough information to educate and intrigue the reader to learn more on his own.
I try to learn as much about my topic/subject before I write a single syllable. And the most inexpensive way to do this is through Internet research. Learning the ins and outs of quality Web searches―how to identify a bogus site, and where to log into university level publications, and so forth―is critical. Check out resource books on the market that will help you navigate the Web without falling into the trap of misinformation. The library or bookstore is the next place on my agenda.
If I have an interview set up, I try to learn as much as I can about the person before the interview. I plan out my questions, making sure I have a zinger or two designed to throw them off the track of their "canned, prepared responses" and get me a real reaction instead.
When researching or interviewing, whether on location or reading background material, I look for relational things such as feelings, values, traumas, sensations, hurts, beliefs, failures and ambitions. These are the elements I find that readers connect with, that help them to relate to whatever story is written.
Most importantly, I budget my time. I take a realistic view of how much money I will be making from the assignment and what else is on my writing plate that week. I decide―before beginning―just how much time I can devote to the project. Depending on the deadline, I determine when I must have my research completed and begin writing the first draft. Of course, if the project is a novel or book-length manuscript, much more time can be devoted to travel, background and market research. Still, I like to ensure that I keep within the parameters I can effectively handle.
Research is critical―but too much can mean I'm no longer making a profit. This may sound crude, but as a writer who is attempting to effectively contribute to the family income, it is a valid point. So I budget my time.
I use a "thirds" rule that you may find helpful. I spend 2/3 of my time in preparation. This includes background research and any potential interviews/photo shoots. The other 1/3 is for writing and editing. I have found that once I have done all my homework and have learned as much as I can in the time I have allotted, then the words tend to flow easier and all I have to do is try to type fast enough!
Tama's Top Reliable Search Sites
Top Internet Search Engines:
Why reinvent the wheel? For one of the best overviews on key helps to Internet research, check out Carmen Leal's full chapter on the topic from her book Writerspeaker.com.
Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary and arts magazine, Haute Dish. As a freelancer, her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.
She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students and helps to edit the column of her 18-year old, British-bred cat on coolpetsites.com, Purrfect Gypsy Ė The Catís Eye View. She is married with two college-enrolled children, and keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Her published clips can be viewed via her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.