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Top Nine Writer’s Rules #4: Research

Here’s a funny thing. Writers like to play down research. ‘Just live your life and use that as your material,’ seems to be the message. Even, ‘And don’t have too exciting a life while you’re at it.’

Here is a snapshot of the collective wisdom of writers considering this topic, with the number 10 rule reserved, as always, for your contribution.

 

1. W SOMERSET MAUGHAM

‘I forget who it was who said that every author should keep a notebook, but should take care never to refer to it… The danger of using notes is that you find yourself inclined to rely on them, and so lose the even and natural flow of your writing.’

  

2. IRIS MURDOCH

‘ I would abominate the idea of putting real people into a novel, not only because I think it’s morally questionable, but also because I think it would be terribly dull. ‘

 

3. ANDREW O’HAGAN

‘You’ve got to know how to recognise the kind of material that releases your imagination.’

 

4. GRAHAM GREENE

‘Interesting experiences, fascinating people you meet in extraordinary places  –  of course that’s all very enjoyable, but they don’t make one a better writer and they don’t always make for good books. Failure and boredom, the feeling of loneliness, of being flat and empty, have more influence on a novelist.’

                                                 

5. MARTIN AMIS

‘Tom Wolfe said that the novelist should get out there and be more like a journalist. That is should be 90 per cent research, 10 per cent inspiration. I think it should be roughly the other way round… I think you don’t want to know too much about what’s going on out there.’

 

6.  GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

‘It is perhaps a perverse taste, but I like prostitution  –  and for its own sake quite apart from what lies underneath… Prostitution is a meeting-point of so many elements  –  lechery, frustration, negation of human relationship, physical frenzy, the clink of gold  –  that a glance into its depths makes one giddy and teaches one all manner of things. It fills you with such sadness! And makes you dream so of love!’

  

7. LOUIS DE BERNIERES

‘Whatever research I do will give me better ideas than anything I could make up on my own.’

 

8. V.S. NAIPAUL

‘Twenty-five years ago, when I was working on In a Free State, I was determined to simplify the African landscapes I was using, and just choose a few elements, and stress them repeatedly at different stages, to give the reader the illusion of knowledge. The reader creates his own landscapes anyway. So I thought I would give him something very formal to work with.’

 

9. E.L.DOCTOROW

‘Anything that you want to use too quickly is suspect. You need time.’

 

10.

 

 

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There is now a Writer’s Rules page on this website reserved for the wise saying of writers about writing. Previous topics have been:

#1     Starting

#2   Inspiration

#3   Marriage.