What I’m reading: March 2021

Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.

Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, or play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Note: The following post contains spoilers for The Neverending Story (both the book and the movies), the podcast Who the Hell is Hamish?, The 100 (TV series), WandaVision, and The Bridge (the HBO Max reality series).

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Reflecting on “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study”

As I’m working on some new and exciting research projects, I’ve found myself going back to a few of my earlier works and reflecting on how my thinking has changed in the time since I wrote them. I thought I would share some of this here partly because I still get asked about some of these articles from time to time and partly because I think it’s valuable to show how things can change as you grow as a scholar.

So today I’m taking a look at “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study,” which was published in College & Research Libraries in 2019.

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Research in fiction writing: What problems is this investigation trying to solve (for writers)?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post trying to figure out exactly what problem my investigation into the role of research in fiction writing is trying to solve for librarians. I decided that even though librarian and information science scholarship tends to favor studies focused on practical application, that I didn’t want the point of my own work to be about “correcting” either the research behavior of creative populations or correcting library systems and services that may not match that behavior. Instead, I argued that in the LIS field we have a giant hole in our understanding of what research is because we tend to ignore any type of research that doesn’t involve the library. This hole has a negative effect on the value of what we do and call into question our ability to refer to ourselves as “research experts.” My study, then, was intended as a first step toward filling that hole and solving that problem.

But LIS audiences aren’t the only ones I’m hoping to reach with this research and so I’ve also had to think about what problem I’m trying to solve for writers and, to some extent, writing teachers by suggesting that we need to do more to understand and teach about research in creative writing contexts.

After spending an entire sabbatical reading about creative writing pedagogy and creative writing as a discipline, I think it’s pretty clear that writers don’t feel a huge need to understand what they do in any sort of systematic way. It seems like there are a few reasons for this. First, creative writers who also work in universities are not rewarded for this type of work. Second, creative writers seem to have a somewhat superstitious “Orpheus and Eurydice” attitude about what they do where they believe that to try to understand the creative process would be to lose it altogether. For creativity to work, it has to remain mysterious and magical (or so they believe).

So for many writers, there is no problem to solve here because there is no need to understand the creative process, assuming it even could be understood. Trying to study creativity is like using a ruler to measure the wind.

But even if you don’t want to understand creativity, you still have to figure out how to teach creative writing.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on popular writing books, Part 3

Now that I’ve read through a list of “academic” writing books, I’m working my way through a set of more popular writing books in search of information on the role of research in fiction writing. Rather than devote whole posts to each individual book, I’ll just be sharing some brief thoughts as I go along. Today, I’m taking a look at 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and Writing Fiction by the Gotham Writers Workshop as well as revisiting Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on popular writing books, part 2

Now that I’ve read through a list of “academic” writing books, I’m working my way through a set of more popular writing books in search of information on the role of research in fiction writing. Rather than devote whole posts to each individual book, I’ll just be sharing some brief thoughts as I go along.

Today, I’m taking a look at How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman and No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. I’m also briefly revisiting On Writing by Stephen King.

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Research in fiction writing: What problem is this investigation trying to solve (for librarians)?

Image by succo from Pixabay

So I’m at a point now where I’m starting to put the findings from my investigation research in fiction writing into article form and I ran into something of a problem when I started writing the abstract.

There are a lot of ways to write abstracts, but the model I like to use is one where you state the motivation for the research, the specific problem you were trying to solve with your research, your approach to the study, and your results. In this case, I knew all about the approach I took and what my results were. I even knew what my motivation was. The trouble was, I didn’t know what problem I was trying to solve other than that there was a gap in the existing literature and I wanted to fill it.

When it comes to library and information science scholarship, wanting to fill a gap in knowledge often isn’t enough to make your research important and publishable. It also has to be useful in some way. That’s because librarians pursue research not only to learn more about how people find, evaluate, and use information but also to find ways to improve their services, tools, and collections. Contributing something that can help prove the value of libraries to those with control over our budgets (and our existence) is generally seen as much more important than pursuing knowledge for the sake of it.

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Research in fiction writing: Thoughts on popular writing books, part 1

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

Now that I’ve read through a list of “academic” writing books, I’m working my way through a set of more popular writing books in search of information on the role of research in fiction writing. Rather than devote whole posts to each individual book, I’ll just be sharing some brief thoughts as I go along.

Today, I’m taking a look at The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, and revisiting Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

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Guest post: Jesi Buell on how to use research in creative writing

Image by Richard Khuptong from Pixabay

Note from Allison: For a while now, I’ve been hoping to feature guest posts from authors who are interested in talking about the role of research in their creative work. Jesi Buell has been kind enough to take the leap and be my first guest author! I’m really excited to feature her creative research tips. If you are a writer who would be interested in penning a similar guest post, I would love to hear from you.

Hello – my name is Jesi Buell and I am an instructional design and web librarian at Colgate University. I also write under the name ‘Jesi Bender’ and run a small press for experimental literature called KERNPUNKT Press. My own writing varies from poetry and flash to novels and plays (I’ve written three novels – one published in 2019 called The Book of the Last Word – and a play coming out later this year called KINDERKRANKENHAUS). I wanted to share some tips on how I use research in my writing and creative endeavors.

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Research in fiction writing: Takeaways from academic writing books

Image by johns480 from Pixabay

So it took me a couple of months but I’m finally finished with the “academic” leg of my investigation into whether and how writing books talk about the role of research in fiction writing. Reading about the same subject over and over again can be exhausting and I was definitely getting a bit, um, cranky there at the end. (Actually, I was already a bit cranky at the start if you go back to my rant about The Way of the Writer, which was literally the second book I read.)

Now that it’s over and I have a little distance from it, I wanted to share a few quick takeaways.

Note: This post contains vague spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House for some reason.

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What I’m reading: January 2021

Now that I’m officially on sabbatical, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

(Note: The following contains spoilers for A Wilderness of Error, both the TV series and the book, the podcast Morally Indefensible, the Bridgerton TV series and Russian Doll)

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