We have discussed the need to ‘write about what you know’, and ways to research your material. But the easiest research technique is one you almost certainly use every day – reading!
Writers collect facts, stories, anecdotes, phrases and words like bowerbirds collect bright objects to decorate their nests. As we read, we trawl for ideas, information and prompts. A great deal of a writer’s knowledgebase is derived from reading. From reading novels and biographies, newspapers and encyclopaedias, cookbooks, poetry, magazines, even comics.
This accumulation of material forms the deep many-layered mine of treasure for your writing. And your selection of material, the way you layer it in your consciousness, the quirky combinations you make, are unique, are entirely yours. No other writer in the universe will ever write exactly as you write, no other writer will express ideas in the same way as you, nor create characters like yours, nor plot lines as sweetly complex as yours.
Become aware of the unique and distinctive voice of well-known writers too. Would you be able to recognise a sentence by Stephen King, or Hilary Mantel, or Peter Carey? How would you recognise it? Learn to perceive the distinctive signature style of each writer by consciously studying, even copying (for the exercise, not for publication) the specific voice. Understanding how a particular writer chooses words, shapes sentences, frames a story, will help you to refine your own unique style. Not a copy or poor imitation of anyone else, but your own, unique and perfect style.
It is odd, but self-evident once you understand it, that the wider your choice of reading material, the richer your writing voice will be. Conversely, a writer who reads very little, or only one or two authors, will find their writing voice faint and restricted.
So read widely, read everything you come across, from bus tickets to descriptions of foreign zoos, from Dear Abby letters and responses to sports results, even read your horoscope! Reading is your nourishment, so ensure your diet is rich and varied. Feed your inner writer words and phrases and wonderful writing.
And never feel guilty for settling back with a good book – after all, you are doing essential research!