Research for Nonfiction

I was reading The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It sucks you into the deep emotional and intellectual hallucinations distinct of a writer’s work and life. I clanged on helplessly for guidance on discipline, and for compassion to forgive my laziness.

The character David Martin said something like,

“To obtain adequate knowledge, one must read thousands of pages, find the essence of the subject and truthful emotions. Then can he start from nothing and jump right in.”

(I was reading Chinese version 🙂 )

2013-08-04 11.54.41

(this post is about my chinese book Sanfranology)


My writing on San Francisco has been stagnant because I feel I knew so little and have nothing substantial to say without researching.

But research could eat up my time so infinitely, it’s hard to know when to stop researching and start writing, or the other way around.

When I have been only writing or only researching, it seemed there’s no solution. But just yesterday I made a real research schedule on CALENDAR by DAYS and suddenly felt realistic, even though I have no idea if the schedule is realistic. I never made research schedule because I trusted my intuition to know when to do what, and dwelled in oceans of information. I thought making a detailed research plan is unrealistic, but during the headache process, I realized I should divide the massive topics into small groups, and work on cycles of research/write/research/write for each of them.


Where research for fiction should be digested and pooped out so the writer can start clean with his own mind and stories, I’m paralyzed by the infinite buffet of other’s knowledge that I’m supposed to keep in my body, never poop out never let go, to create a mind expanding, knowledgeable and resourceful non-fiction work.

Am I wrong? Or not?

Right now my essays are soggy lame things, some are cookie doughs, some are napkins, some are fruit mixed with alcohol, some are noodles mixed with rice. Everything has the potential to be their own things instead of having consistent style and purpose across.

There’s the research for open awareness of information.
There’s also research to address specific question, intention, or data.

Are these separate work? Should I limit the first kind to minimum? I might have spent too much time there but forget what I learned as I move on.

Perhaps I should focus on going through as many cycles as possible, instead of thinking about writing a book as a linear expanding process.

That’s like the bicycle analogy in lean startup concepts!


I’m happy to collect information on the net, search the library catalog, scan for flyers and booklets when walking on the street. Slow and unorganized. I need to absorb information, remind myself of my narrative, and search again for information that fits my narrative.

I just read a story on SF Weekly about a traveler/homeless/theyhavetheirowntitlesnow. It’s those stories I wish I could write OR now that I read it, I could incorporate into my writings. Reading makes me feel helpless.

In interviews, conversations are direct narratives. But there are also types of interview that are open chatting, needed especially when I’m not familiar about the subject.

Interviews are quick, direct, heartfelt and personal. I need to overcome my shyness 😳

But what is the difference between talking with someone for their stories and reading their stories someone else covered?

I think revising my articles with a clearer intention even with same ignorance will show me answers about how to go about research for non-fiction.

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