Research and Writing

Today’s post is a long one. It is based on a lecture I gave years ago on research and writing. It was presented several times to a teacher’s group, an author’s roundtable and a classroom of students with an interest in the theme. As many visitors here are fellow bloggers and writers I thought it might be appropriate to step away from the drum set and focus on the task of composing quality writing. This goes for blog posts, books, magazine articles and essays. I will keep this resource in relation to drums as I have written books, blogs and magazine articles on the subject. Here are some excerpts from a transcript:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to have this opportunity to speak to you on a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Drums have been a constant and important part of my life for over 20 years. Today I hope to educate and inspire you to research and write about your passions. Now there is no doubt that I have been very blessed over the last few years with having the opportunity to speak on a wide variety of subjects at universities, museums, theaters and churches. This has been extremely enjoyable to me as it gives me an opportunity to combine both of my interests… historical writing and drums. Tonight’s theme will focus on the drums but these same principles can be applied to any subject.

Let’s start with the beginning of any writing project, research. Research of course is step one: obtaining reference. But how do you manage it – especially when you end up with everything from old newspaper clippings and musical recordings to photographs and archived materials. Sorting your materials for future reference is essential when combining multiple sources. I use a folder system that keeps everything organized. Each type of reference or subject material has its own folder. As I gather more and more sources I immediately store them in the appropriate folder. By the time I am done I have a stack of folders bursting at the seams with reference. Not only does this make my work easier when it comes time to write, it also helps when it comes time to credit people and refer to the sources for the bibliography. What is extra nice is that I now have an extensive collection of prepared materials that I can refer to again for future projects.

The Internet of course has opened up a whole new world of research to writers, but it must be used with caution. We can now get access to tons of cyber information, but we must always keep in mind that the facts on the Internet are only as good as the person who posted them. Therefore I always compare multiple sources whenever possible. This could also include interviewing multiple people who have experience or expertise on the subject. Not everything can be found with a computer. I tell my kids that Google is not the end all. It can be a great tool – but it does not provide all of the answers. So research is the most important aspect of the writing process. It’s the brick in the foundation of your work. Remember, sources matter. I wrote an article for a drum magazine publication that presented a historical look at Gene Krupa. My research included several of Gene’s press kits, multiple photographs, past articles and album covers. By organizing my reference media initially I was able to construct the article with relative ease.

Another technique that I use is outlining. It helps me to see the overall structure of a project. It also helps me determine what sources are required, what visuals can accompany the piece, and what I need to do in order to accomplish my goals. Think of it as a roadmap that becomes the framework for the piece. I approach the outline as a fluid document that can change according to the material as it reveals itself. Outlining can be challenging if your subject is complicated but it will be a great asset in the end. Believe me, it’s worth it. Think of outlining as a music chart which lays out everything that is required to play. In this case it’s for writing.

There are other ways you can approach any subject matter that will necessitate what kind of research and writing you will need to do. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. I know a lot about this subject: This will determine your preparation.
  2. I know very little about this subject: This will necessitate studying.
  3. This material has been covered: This will require an original angle.
  4. This material has not been covered: This will give you more freedom.
  5. I need vetting from an expert: This is an important step in the process.
  6. I do not need vetting from an expert: This may result in errors.

These key points will also necessitate how you approach your subject. These are helpful guidelines that will help make the writing process more enjoyable. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Find your inspiration. What about this subject motivates you?
  2. Historical non-fiction requires a lot of research. Put in the time.
  3. It’s very easy as a writer to become egotistical. Get over yourself.
  4. Determine what your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer. Play to your strengths, but never stop working on your weaknesses.
  5. Remember, it will have your name on it. A book cover or byline cannot be taken away once it’s published.

Hopefully these recommendations will help you to research and write about any subject that strikes your fancy. When I write about drums, whether from a historical or technical aspect, or conduct an interview with a well-known player, I always use this approach. By taking the necessary steps from beginning to end, I am able to maintain my focus and present something that is hopefully engaging and enjoyable for the reader. If I did my job as a writer it will reveal itself. Thank you for your time and please feel free to ask any questions.

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