First off, you have to research sometimes. Some things you can fake, like what happens when a vampire bites someone (let’s be real, no one knows. Or they’re not telling.) But if you guess and get it wrong, or at least really wrong, it annoys readers. Conversely, if you get it right, they get drawn into the story more. If it’s something they know, like a place or subject, then you’re more than just an author – you’re a comrade. Research can pay off.
As a rule, I don’t stop writing to research something unless I absolutely can’t avoid it. I’ll mark whatever it is (maybe something like this: @look up how a broken shoulder is treated/how long to recover) and keep going. Then when I hit a point when I just need a break, or I’m done with the first draft, I’ll go back and search for all those little marks, and fill in the details.
Obviously, sometimes you run into a detail that isn’t little. You need to know a fact now because it affects too many things in the scenes to come. Those annoying tidbits, you have to stop writing to research, but there are different ways of handling the problem.
First, if I’m on a roll and my muse is on my side, I might just switch scenes and put off the research and the scenes that will result until later. I don’t want to lose momentum at that moment. If I’m writing chapter two and got stymied by a historical fact, I will take the option to jump ahead to write chapter eight that doesn’t have anything to do with said historical fact or the fallout of its revelation.
Second, in the case of a time crunch, like NaNoWriMo, I’ll try to do the same thing and approach the problem as if I’m trying to maintain momentum. It really is the same whether I’m actually feeling the blessing of the muse or not. I need to hit the wordcount goal and I will not accept a delay.
The third point is where plotters really have a huge advantage over pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants). If you have an outlined plot, you probably know in advance where those big research points are. Do them in your down time or in advance. In the case of NaNoWriMo, do your research now.
There’s a specific bit about NaNo and research I’d like to point out: if you haven’t taken the time to actually join the NaNo community website, consider it. Yes, you can hook up with friends there and brag about wordcount, or use it to motivate yourself or others, and a lot of areas or cities have a NaNo community with write-ins and whatever. I don’t pay much attention to all of that. Okay, I do the occasional Write-in with friends to motivate them. That’s not what I want to bring your attention to here, it’s the boards. Specifically, the research board.
Everything is on the Internet, right? Finding it can be difficult, and writers know that. Also, sometimes what you need isn’t the velocity of a bullet or what gun an FBI agent who started in 1998 would carry, it’s something more personal. Like if your character carried a Smith & Wesson 9mm in a right side leather belt holster with a snap, and his right hand was smashed in a fight, how long would it take him to cross draw that weapon and fire if he were lying on the ground on his stomach? And maybe you live in a city/state/country where you can’t conduct that specific experiment yourself. Oddly, you can get a question like that answered on the research board. Or you’re a woman writing about a female character who wakes up one morning to discover she’s now male and has to contend with ‘dangly bits.’ That came up and it was hysterical to read the descriptions and advice the men volunteered.
This is where I will be distracted in November: reading the research board on Nanowrimo.org. I’ll answer what I can, ask Hubby or other professionals I know if someone’s question isn’t being answered, and read things that look interesting. Part of it is that knowledge is valuable. Part of it is that the people answering these insane questions are writers, and the way they respond is often times just fantastic. The various question sites on the web aren’t nearly as much fun.