Researching Your Way Out of Writer’s Block

A month or two ago, I found myself stuck in the most recent draft of my manuscript. I had everything plotted out, I knew where I wanted to go, but it just wasn’t working and I grew more and more frustrated.

So I took a step back and decided to do a little more research and, in the process, came across some unexpected gems, places I had never thought to look before that gave me some of the information I needed but hadn’t been able to find.

Some of the most helpful books I found at my library were:

1. Children’s Nonfiction Books

Why children’s nonfiction? Well, the books are shorter, easier to read, and usually more fun. More than that, I find that the children’s books are often the best place to start for a general overview to help me quickly figure out what I should focus in on with more research. They also have great bibliographies to find other books on the same topic.

2. Architecture Books

These were fabulous to help me develop a mental picture of the world I wanted to create. Setting and world-building are so important, even in contemporaries, and these books really helped me flesh out what I was imagining. I’d had a vague idea before about how I wanted the world to look, but these books really helped me pin down what architectural features separated the time period I was working on from later periods, what materials for building were available, and the symbolism in the different buildings.

3. Cookbooks

I honestly checked this out on a whim, because it was the only other book my library had from the region I was researching. But seriously, so helpful! The beginning of the book talked about the history of the country as it related to the culinary development, as well as things like festivals and what the people usually ate at them. Cookbooks will vary in how much history and culture they have, but almost all cookbooks that focus on a specific region or cuisine do spend some time talking about it. Sometimes you can even find cookbooks that talk about the origin of the specific dish, which can be useful.

But besides the history, I also found it helpful to know what kinds of food my characters would have eaten. (And making the yummy recipes for myself is an added bonus!)

4. Gardening Books

Honestly, I checked out this book solely for the pictures. Gardens are important in my story and I thought the pictures might inspire me. They did, of course, but the book was so, so much more useful than that. Because it was focused on gardens, the book talked a lot about the climate, why the climate was the way it was, how the landscape affected the climate, and what problems were faced when trying to grow a garden there. In addition to all that, it talked about common plants in that region, how they’re grown, and what they look like (who knew cypress trees didn’t have leaves??). I highly recommend checking out a gardening book if you’re having any troubles with describing your setting.

So what have you found to be the most helpful places to look for information? What tips do you have for dealing with writer’s block?

Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.