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Research On the Run
by Kathryn Lay

How do you keep dozens of queries and manuscripts in the mail, homeschool a 4th grader, help run a adult education school, teach an online writing course, become an officer in a writer's group and stay involved in a critique group? With all that, how is there time for researching new ideas and markets? It can be done. I do all of the above and I'm not insane yet.

I reserve most of my free time at home for actual writing, studying markets through the web, and preparing queries and manuscripts for mailing. I have little time for reading and studying magazines. But, as with most of us now, I am on the run for myself or my family and have learned to catch research moments whenever possible.

1. Waiting Room Research.

There's an old joke about the dates of magazines in doctor's offices, but that isn't always true. A few months ago during my daughter's dentist appointment, I studied a half dozen recent issues of Highlights for Children, Parenting, and Country Living.

While my daughter had her hair cut, I looked through two of the most recent issues of Family Circle, Child, and Seventeen. I wrote down topics they'd covered, columns that were written by different writer's each month, and email addresses for short quips and ideas.

I carry a notebook to all appointments, then return home to put my market information into my idea notebook.

An article title caught my eye while waiting for a haircut appointment for myself. It sparked an idea and by the time it was my turn, the first draft of the article was written. I rewrote it that night, emailed it to a publication I'd worked with, and had a sale the next day.

2. Grocery Research.

There's nothing more frustrating than waiting in long grocery store lines on a busy shopping day. Here, you will definitely find the newest issues available of magazines.

Because editors can move up or out, I don't rely on old issues to give me that information. At the grocery store I can check the latest issue's masthead. I can get addresses I've lost. Or check out new looks and sections of issues.

3. Vacation Research.

Vacation is for rest and relaxation. But while you are away, make sure and pick up brochures and pamphlets of historical, fun, and interesting towns and sites. If you have time, check the visitors bureau or Chamber of Commerce for brochures or inside information on less well-known sites or local stories. When you arrive in a new city and everyone needs a bathroom break, find the visitors bureau and browse while you wait.

Many magazines welcome interesting travel information. Or perhaps, you'll want to have a story or novel set in this place you have visited and fallen in love with.

Visiting the beach in Galveston, Texas gave me a sudden idea for a short story. I asked the hotel clerk for a bit of information, made a local call to the historical society, and quickly had ideas for an article, a short story and a children's novel.

4. Fly-by Research

Stuck sitting in the airport? If you're flying, you may be prepared for a wait and for your trip with lots of writing projects. But what if you're picking up a friend and the plane's been delayed an hour? Or you're on an unexpectedly long layover between flights?

You can look at magazines in the shops, but you can also look over out-of-town newspapers. See any freelance-written sections? How about the Op-ed editor's name?

5. A Friend's Research

Sometimes while visiting a friend, I've found they don't want my help in the dinner preparations. I sometimes use the time to look over magazines they subscribe to that I don't. I visit with their kids and find out what they're reading or interested in doing now.

6. Storytime Research

When my daughter was younger, I often took her to library storytimes. No parents allowed. She enjoyed the time with other kids and I was able to spend a quick 30 minutes of time researching in reference books I couldn't check out, online (before I was hooked up to the internet myself), and studying the variety of magazines.

7. Kid's Activity Time Research

My daughter has almost always been involved in some activity, whether gymnastics, tae-kwan-do, an art class, or drama class. I grab issues of magazines, information I've downloaded off the internet, or a market guide I haven't had time to study and take them with me.

For 30 minutes to an hour, my daughter tumbles, kicks, draws, or acts. I find a soda and a quiet corner of the building and research. I can make notes, uninterrupted by my daughter, the phone, television, or housework.

Research for writers is necessary. Whether for market information or writing information, it often takes away from the rare times available to actually put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. But if you take advantage of those mountains of lost minutes waiting, you'll be rewarded and the time will fly.

© Copyright 2000, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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