Life is good when you get to watch Doctor Who all day and call it "research."
Life is good when you get to watch Doctor Who all day and call it “research.”

So I am currently engaged in writing my Master’s thesis, which is a very complicated hundred page paper. Granted, it’s on Doctor Who, which is fantastic, but it’s still stressful and occupies the majority of my time and thoughts. My next few posts will have something to do with the art of thesis writing, because the more I work on this monstrosity, the more I realize I can apply some of the concepts I use to my fiction writing. Nice to know that all the work I’m putting in for that fancy bit of paper I’ll be getting in May will apply to something other than school work. Anyway, today I want to talk about the process I’ve been working on for the past two months, and how it applies to creative writing.

Since April, I have been working on something I refer to as “quote mining.” I have about 65 different sources for my thesis (whittled down from the 120+ I found during the research process), and I’ve read almost all of them at this point. Once I became familiar with my sources, I sat down with my computer and the stack of books and journal articles, and started up a new Word document. I’ve been going through each source individually, page by page, and typing up each quote I find that I think even might tangentially relate to something I’m going to discuss in my thesis. I’m still finishing up the quote mining, but once I’m done with that, I’m going to go back through the huge document of quotes, and organize each quote by which chapter it will end up in when I put it in the actual thesis. This is by far the most time-consuming and exhausting part of my writing – actually writing the 100 pages of material will be pretty quick and easy compared to this. However, it’s a really necessary part of the writing process for me, as it helps me really understand the material and become really familiar with my sources.

Like this, but with words.
Like this, but with words.

Now, how does this relate to creative writing? As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have trouble working on creative projects that aren’t short stories. I’ve tried novel writing and never gotten anywhere, mostly because I have trouble with world building. It’s hard for me to creative a “world,” whether real or imaginary, and detail that setting for an entire book. I can’t keep all of those details and images in my head for that long, so it’s hard for me to remain consistent. Something I’ve discovered with the thesis process, though, is that if I do my research for my world building and catalog it the way I do my thesis quotes, the whole thing becomes much easier to manage. I “mine” quotes and descriptions from sources on setting, design, and so on that relate to what I’m trying to create, and once I’ve sourced it enough to have a clear idea of the world in my head, I organize the quotes/descriptions based on the part of the world to which they relate. Working on long creative projects has now gotten much easier for me to manage, and I’m not so freaked out by the world building anymore 🙂 I’ve also discovered that it works well for shorter projects that require research, such as historical fiction or sci-fi…quote mining my research in these areas helps me to remember what I’ve discovered/decided to use, and it makes my works much more consistent. I’m not saying this method will work for everyone, but it definitely works for a Type A, OCD, easily freaked out itinerant writer. Happy writing!

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6 thoughts on “Foundations of Large Projects: Quote Mining

  1. Oh, YES! I remember that but I wasn’t anywhere that organized. Make sure you have complete and exhaustive refrences for each and every one!! My Chairman was absolutely OCD about my reference list!

    1. I’m writing about the subversion of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth in the show, as seen through its presentation of the Secular Humanist worldview 🙂

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