Research is the inspiration

September 18, 2020

I can sense my writing coach cringing already.

About two years ago when I started working with her, she pointed out that one of the reasons I struggled to finish writing my memoir manuscript was because of insecurity.

Specifically — I felt compelled to research more. I struggled to consider myself an expert on the people and the lives I was portraying in my story.

Stop it, was her advice. Keep going. You know your own story best.

She’s right. But as I begin pursuing a new manuscript draft after being away from it for about a year, I need some inspiration.

Life’s overwhelming right now: the job, the pandemic, the kids schooling at home, the boxed wine is running low. The stress of it all can leave me feeling tired, unenthused, squeezing the pouch of boxed wine so the last drop isn’t wasted.

As I explored what used to work in my writing life, I realized something profound. Research can be and is my inspiration to write.

Anyone who’s delved into researching family secrets, myths, truths knows the sensation. Every tiny piece of evidence not previously seen — photographs, news articles, government documents — help piece together answers to questions that have longed vexed us.

It also spurs imagination.

I remember when I began contemplating a serious attempt at writing a memoir, I’d carve out time during visits to family in Cincinnati to walk city neighborhoods I’d never before paid attention to or visit landmarks that I discovered played a role in my family’s story, the story I wanted to tell.

Between visits to the Queen City and deep dive research on my home computer of digital archives, genealogy websites, and digitized newspapers from decades and even centuries ago, my adrenaline would mix with imagination.

The story came alive in my mind.

Weeks ago when I decided to toss off the pile of excuses which were suffocating my writing motivation, one of the first things I did was to make a list of holes in my research.

No matter how small or seemingly meaningless, I would pursue answers to questions I never answered before.

And I would better organize the research I did have. All these photos, interview notes, Ancestry trees, and so on, they needed organizing.

It was like blowing air on the embers of an old fire to reignite the flame.

Step one now for me is to re-engage with my research (sorry coach). Actually, I know my coach would be okay with it because right now, during this pandemic, at a time when we’re all overwhelmed, anything that kick starts our writing is okay. Do it. Enjoy it.

If the pandemic squashed your motivation, if you’ve found a way to restart, what helped you? Where did you find the motivation?

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer currently sifting through boxes of research at his home in Lancaster, Pa. He and his wife, Alison, have three young boys. You can contact him at

More about Dave Pidgeon

Dave is the author of and lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three sons.

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