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We possess more information about the pottery industry than any other ancient industry in Palestine.

–B.G. Wood

Research. It’s fundamental to novel-writing, but it also can be one of the most daunting aspects. Where does one begin? Do I research first, then write? Do I research as I write? Or do I write what I know now and then flesh it out with the facts later? I’m interested to hear how you approach your research-versus-writing phases.

My current work-in-progress is set in ancient Palestine. My approach to the research has been a combination of the above. I spent a good chunk of time studying and learning and finding out information first, but as I read, the story also formed and took shape in my mind. Now I feel I know enough to do justice to the first draft, but I also know that once the first draft is done, I’ll have much more research ahead. It can be overwhelming if I let it. However, I’m choosing to enjoy the process, to respect the knowledge I gain, and to accept the gifts the research gives.

One of these gifts happens to be a character for my story. Reading about pottery in ancient Palestine I discovered:

  1. Pottery production (as a full-time subsistence activity) was a male-dominated industry
  2. It was viewed as undesirable ‘dirty work’
  3. Pottery workshops, due to smoke, fumes and fire-hazard, were on the outskirts of urbanized areas

A male potter, outcast and on the outskirts of society is a perfect fit for my story. He’s there, given to me by the research. And when it’s time for him to meet my main character, well, she and I will meet him together– as I write.

Bryant G. WoodFor those interested, here’s my complete annotation. I have pages of the following descriptions in my file:

Wood, B.G. The Sociology of Pottery in Ancient Palestine: the Ceramic Industry and the Diffusion of Style in the Bronze and Iron Ages. JSOTSup 103. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.

In the first section, Wood describes the nature of pottery production in ancient Palestine including a description of single and double potter’s wheels, vertical and horizontal kilns, potter’s tools and workshops. Pottery production is a male-dominated industry, viewed as undesirable ‘dirty work’. It largely takes place in urbanized areas, involving mass commercial production. The second half of the book uses ethnographic evidence to suggest that the diffusion of ceramic style is fairly rapid and complete throughout ancient Palestine as a result of markets, itinerant merchants and movement of consumers (women transporting wares to another location when married, etc). Large pots, pots of high value and cultic pottery are not subjected to the same strain as everyday ware and may last for generations—caution is required when dating these.


So how do you approach your research? Any tips? Have you made any lovely discoveries? Any unfortunate ones that dismantled your story?

This week I signed up for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon. Feel free to check out my profile.


I’m going to write this novel. Word by word.

New grains of sand: 4,077

Current status: 26,249