Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Experiencing Research by A. M. Heath

"Write what you know." We hear it all the time. Today, author A. M. Heath gives writers tips on ways in which we can transform our knowledge into first-hand experience. -- Sandy

Anita: Research is more than just a weekend trip to the library. Research is a way of life.
Most fiction authors are used to taking everyday experiences and filing them away for their writing. A walk in the rain would give you valuable insight into the life of a soldier. A bad case of strep gives you insight into the deathbed of a character. 

But I want to encourage you to find new ways to gain valuable experience. For contemporary authors, this would mean experiencing your character's job or hobby. There are certain details that only experience can teach. For example, you might not know that one of the greatest challenges to photography is lighting and interference in the background, or that a hardship would be the workout your legs get from squatting and standing all afternoon.

A baker's greatest challenge is getting interrupted and forgetting whether or not they've added in the salt. While the hardship might be the heat in the kitchen or the dishes.

Whatever your character is involved in, take the time to experience it first hand so you can bring a deeper understanding to it.

As a historical author, I want to give you a list of suggestions for bring history to life and experiencing new things aside from visiting historic homes and landmarks.

  • Ride a horse
  • Train
  • Carriage
  • Wagon
  • Ride sidesaddle

In the kitchen:

  • Cook recipes from your era, especially if you work with a war era. There were so many shortages so try working with what they had on hand. 
  • Pluck a chicken
  • Grind coffee beans by hand
  • Use tea leaves
  • Cook over an open fire
  • Drink tea or coffee without sugar
  • Bake pies or bread from scratch

  • Turn your lights off and only use a candle for the night 
  • Turn off the tv and listen to the radio (use audio books in place of radio programs) 
  • Candle or soap making 
  • Sew by hand
  • Knitting
  • Canning
  • Write with a quill
  • Handwash your dishes or laundry (Don't forget to towel dry or hang your clothes on a line)
  • Sew and stuff a tick (mattress)

  • Shoot a rifle
  • Chop and stack firewood
  • Start a fire

General life:
  • Play old games
  • Try on reenactment clothing
  • Tour a fabric store and feel and compare common materials worn during your era
  • Folk dancing 

I'd love to hear the ways you've taken your research to the next level! In what ways are you now planning to?


Being raised in a small Tennessee town, A.M. Heath grew up with a love for southern history and nostalgia. She lives with her husband and four children in Southern Tennessee where they embrace the small town lifestyle.

Connect with A.M. Heath online on her blog, Facebook page, or website.

Devastation sweeps across the land, and the families of Maple Grove cannot escape when war arrives at their front doors. They must learn how to survive the uncertainty of war and a country split in two. While the war in the nation rages on, the battle within grows stronger. Will they learn that the only safe place to hide is in the shadow of Thy Wings?
*The Ancient Words Series is best read in order.


  1. "For most of my research, I can “Google-n-Go,” finding what I need online. For times when I need more specific or personal answers..." and so begins my acknowledgements in my novel. i encountered a topic that required more specific information, however, in my second novel—spinal cord injury and paralysis, and PT/recovery. i got help from a doctor/writer friend on what the extent of injuries might be, than had to talk with a couple of physical therapists to set what might be realistic PT program for my character.
    in the new book, i'll be poking around at Civil War and life in rural west virginia—some google-n-go, some by taking with friends who are more knowledgeable than i.
    did i mention i LOVE doing research!!

    1. Anita will be a good person to consult about the Civil War. :) Her books are set in that era and she knows a lot, which she shares on her blog.

    2. I think it's amazing that you were able to talk with people more knowledgeable. Sounds like a tough subject, so I'm sure they were very helpful. :)
      I often start with Google, but I rarely end there. As Sandra mentioned, I'm currently writing Civil War fiction and I've been known to reach the limits of Google's knowledge. Lol That's when I've been known to turn to the journals written during the era. I LOVE the quick answers of Google compared to the tedious work of journal reading, but I've learned SO much more from the journals in the long run.

      Here's a great book for you that I found at the library a week ago that I wish I had known about 3 years ago: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s.
      Sandra, I believe you'll find this useful as well.
      There are several categories, and it's basically a dictionary for the 1800s. It's like having 200 Google links opened at once in an easy to read format. I've looked on Amazon for a copy and found them reasonably priced. I also found a treasure trove of other books like this one covering different eras. Amazon allows you to peek inside the book so you can see what it has to offer for yourself.

      And thank you, Sandra, for the vote of confidence. :)

    3. That book has been on my shelf for a long time, Anita. They make a whole series for various time periods. You're right. They're wonderful books!

  2. I write contemporary and for my current WIP I checked out Google, read books from the library, and even called the national park where my story is set.


We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave comments. We'll moderate and post them!