The years that have passed since then have taught me a lot about time management. Although I never really wasted a minute of my time at that big library – I don’t consider reading any kind of book as a waste of time – I did spend a lot of hours with books I wouldn’t essentially have had to read for the topics I was researching.
Nowadays, I rarely have time to go to a library anymore at all. Not like I used to. I have a day job and three children. And I published a book this summer. Whenever people ask me how I did that, I shrug and smile. Those who don’t have children would never understand how my first book came to be, and those who do would probably shake their heads. My book is titled Stealing the Light, but I should have titled it Stealing Time.
I’ve become a thief, and a planner. My calendar is a beast of burden, and I systematically use every little time slot I can get for my writing. My notebook has become my constant companion. I flip it open the second I turn off the engine in front of my children’s school while waiting for them to come out of class. I eat my lunch one handedly at an old desk in the utility room at my workplace, in between scribbling my ideas on a paper pad and checking my website and social media on my phone. My kids’ weekly music lessons are the best writing time I can get: I sit on a bench outside the building with a beautiful forest view and type away for a whole hour without interruption. I even write when I wake up at night, because there are times when the ideas just fall over themselves, wanting out, and there’s nothing you can do about that when you’re coined like me.
I use those stolen minutes for writing only. If I get to a place where I’d need to look something up that I’d missed during the drafting phase, I take notes, and I do that research on Sunday mornings before my kids wake up and before the family time begins.
I still love libraries. In this phase of my life, however, with family life taking priority over everything else at the weekends, I love search engines more. I do a lot of my research on the internet, because it’s super convenient not to have to actually drive to the library for the material anymore. Ours is closed on Sundays anyway, but the internet never sleeps.
The world is at my fingertips whenever I sit at my kitchen table, and I can double check my facts from home as reliably as I might at any library, perhaps more easily. There’s just more of everything online, and it’s always available.
More choice doesn’t necessarily mean more quality, but I usually find what I’m looking for, in the end.
Three things help me with that: One, I write what I know (to a big extent). Two, I use what I have (in my case, that’s my ability for languages). Number three, I limit my research time so I’m forced to use it economically.
Write what you know is one of the first things you’re told when starting out. I hadn’t heard that piece of advice when I began writing because I’ve never taken classes in creative fiction, but I’m a history geek and always have been, so medieval times are my field, and I took naturally to the theme without thinking about it. I did a lot of research in my area of interest years ago already for papers and for my thesis, so I know what to look for and where to get it.
I don’t think I ever doubted that knowing several languages can only benefit you, though it’s not everyone’s thing, especially if you’ve never actually needed more than one language. But: I’ve discovered that even if you only write in one language, it’s a great advantage if you can look up things in another on the internet. If I don’t come up with exactly what I need using keywords in English, I try in one of the other languages I know. This really broadens the scope in European history, for instance.
Limiting my research time has worked wonders for my overall time budget. One hour per week is enough for me to do what I need to get done without losing myself in the floods. Tempting though it may be to gain more insight through cross-references, there’s a danger of drifting off, and I hear that I’m not alone there. Several fellow writers have told me they struggle to stay on track because clicking on layered links and discovering new texts and articles is so much fun. Particularly when you’re a history geek. Of course, writing is supposed to be fun, or I wouldn’t be doing it, but finishing an entertaining book within a certain time frame is my main goal. You can’t publish something that’s not finished, and building a solid back list is the one thing that gets a self-published author noticed. That’s why I keep an eye on the clock at the bottom of the toolbar on my laptop while doing my research.
If you’re a writer, what’s your experience with research, and how do you manage your stolen time?
Lisa Hofmann was born in Siegen, Germany, in 1975. She attended schools in Germany and in Ireland. After graduating, she worked for a large international wholesale company and as an interpreter for two years before she attended the University of Siegen.
During her time at university, she translated books and other writings for her professors of Educational Didactics and Anglistics, discovering her talent for handling words. She began writing medieval fantasy fiction in her late thirties while working as a teacher.
She still lives near her birthplace today with her husband, three children and a houseful of pets. She writes predominantly in English.
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