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How to make dry research fun

I’m reading The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil: From the Earliest Times to the Present Dayby Paul Carus as research for my current work-in-progress. It’s not a book I’d normally read. In fact, it took me ages to make it past the first twenty pages—every time I picked up the book, I’d fall asleep. Great for catching up on some Zs but not so great if you’re actually trying to learn something. I don’t blame the author. I was never good at history. I had the same reaction in school—all those dates and past events would make me grow blurry-eyed and sleepy. My head was always in the future.

Yesterday, I made a breakthrough. I told myself I could not move off our front-yard swing (oh, darn!) until I’d read 100 pages. And, I told my obsessive-compulsive self that I didn’t have to read every single word.

It worked! I did read every word (OCD-self wins again) but, in the process of my game, I made another game of it: try to find an angle in all that history that interested me. About 80 pages in, I found it. I discovered what interested me most is not what the bible or other religious texts say about the devil himself but how religion through time has treated the concept of good and evil.

I found it fascinating that ancient religions, which had an aspect of devil-worship in their culture, were not actually worshiping the devil but trying to hold evil at bay with their offerings. Their sacrifices and “worship” consisted of giving the evil gods something to keep them happy and keep them from harming the citizens.

Once I found an angle of interest, it made reading the history book less painful, and now I’m actively looking for other points of interest.

If you have any dry research ahead of you, try to think about it from a slightly different angle—what points of interest can you find that might be relevant to your story? Is there anything that pops up that might be fun for a future novel, short story, or poem? What games can you invent to get yourself through the research?

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of focusing on the task. I finally got fed up with myself and made the goal of finishing the 480-page book this week.  And now that I’m half way done, I’m actually starting to have fun.

In my next post, I’ll discuss why it’s important to do original research for your work-in-progress.

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