Part I: Researching Nonfiction
By Carol Adrienne, Ph.D.
July, 2007, 13:50
"[A hundred feet in the air] . . . we had to tiptoe sideways along a narrow, drooping foot line strung beneath the yard, which ran perpendicular to the mast. Each time a new person stepped on, the line quivered and bounced. I crab-walked to the end, perched over the water. This was the yardarm, from which men sentenced to death at sea were hanged. Just standing on the tightrope-like line, leaning my belly against the yard, was unsettling enough. Then came actual labour."
|To what heights and lengths will you go to ensure your research provides true reality?|
When Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Tony Horwitz decided to write his massively-researched book, Blue Latitudes, a story about the three voyages of Captain James Cook undertaken in the late 1760’s, he signed on for a week’s berth on a replica of His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour. A good journalist or nonfiction writer like Horwitz knows how to research.
The question for most authors, however, is how far do we want to go to create depth, credibility, and usefulness? The answer depends on confronting the following points:
- How much passion (affinity) do you have for the subject?
- Does the piece depend on presenting new discoveries or facts?
- Does the piece benefit from corroborating principles from other authors?
- How important are supporting anecdotal examples to the veracity and vivacity of the writing?
- How much time you have?
Horwitz’s account of being a sailor on the ship (the only modern concessions being toilets, showers, safety harnesses, and better food) are riveting, while immediately putting his reader in the picture. I could only imagine how inadequate I would be at performing the exhausting, mind-numbing, physical tasks required in old-time sailing. I, who can hardly motivate myself to walk in 40-degree weather, especially if it’s windy – let alone face the freezing, uncertain conditions of a sea voyage – would have spent the week rigid with cold, leaving the rest of the time to fixate on my inevitable sea-sickness.
Through Horwitz’s vivid descriptions based on his personal experience and historical research, I now see the horror of a sailor’s life before maps and physical hygiene. I deeply appreciate his courage and scholarship, which allows me to read this book cozily in bed.
For reasons such as the 100-foot yard-arm, I don’t write historical nonfiction.
As a nonfiction author, however, I write about metaphysical subjects and personal development, such as numerology, overcoming limiting beliefs, and discovering one’s life purpose. My personal fascination for the subject of numerology in 1980 led me to read as many different books as I could find on the subject. My goal was to extract what I thought were the most reliable descriptions and systems for character analysis. In addition, I constantly tested the material in readings with real people to authenticate the descriptions and timing. That research resulted in The Numerology Kit, which after twenty-seven years has recently gone out of print.
I still write about numerology, but have broadened my territory to talk about such personal growth topics as the value of using intuition and synchronicity as a way to follow the unfolding of one’s inherent life flow. I have noticed that the same energetic states for finding life purpose – passion, paying attention, listening to one’s intuition, and noticing helpful synchronicities – are, frequently, the same dynamic elements in the research process.
Passion attracts. Over the years my numerology research frequently comes to me. For example, the other day I was reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle describing the personality of the new French President-elect, Nicolas Sarkozy. “He is a whirling dervish of ideas who inspires hope and fear on both sides of the French political scene.” “. . . he will take any risk . . . a bit of an outsider . . . nakedly ambitious, pragmatic and calculating.” The article listed his full name, Nicolas Paul Stephane Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa, born January 28, 1955. Could I do anything less than calculate a numerology chart for this first son of an immigrant to rise to the French presidency, who claimed he was fashioned by the humiliations of childhood?
Research on larger-than-life people helps me continue to validate the meaning of the numbers. As I suspected from the reporter’s description, Sarkozy’s chart shows, among other things, a strong emphasis on the number 1 – the number of ambition, courage, drive, leadership, independence, and sheer chutzpah. This is a man whose numerological blueprint is focused on striving to overcome personal and professional hurdles, to uproot the conventional, and to challenge people’s thinking.
Years ago, I remember being interested in a serial killer who was being executed (I don’t remember why this one captured my attention). I actually called the prison in Alabama and asked if they had his full name and birth date. They gave it to me, although I have to confess I felt a little bit like a stalker. So it goes with my numerology research. I will probably be doing it till I can no longer ask the question, “What is your birth date?”
Intention is a critical necessity when doing research. The moment we begin to focus and pay attention to something we need to know, parts of our brain function and awareness awaken. Just like when we decide we want to buy a silver Honda Accord, all we see on the road are silver Honda Accords.
Intention is the first step in attracting a matching answer. When we need something – and strongly focus our energy by our desire – it usually shows up fairly soon. For example, several years ago my friend, golf writer Cori Brett, was writing a magazine article for Golf and Women (Jan/Feb 1997) on California golf courses A to Z. She had found an appropriate golf course for every letter but X. Still wracking her brain to find that last golf course in order to finish her article on time, she happened to be out driving one day. She came to a stoplight. In front of her was a car with a bumper sticker that read, “X Marks the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, California." Seeing the X on the bumper sticker stimulated her to start thinking about what was in Santa Cruz. There she found Pasatiempo Golf Club, noteworthy for being designed by the architect, Alister MacKenzie.
Intuition is often the answer to an intention – whether that intention or desire is conscious or unconscious. As an example of something that happens frequently in my line of writing, I remember the day I was starting to write my chapter on intention and focus for my book, The Purpose Of Your Life. The phone rang, and it was my Italian friend, Giorgio Cerquetti, calling to say he was in San Francisco. Since Giorgio is one of the most synchronistically-adept people I have ever met, I asked if I could pick his brains about how he creates such flow in his life. One tip, he said, is that he makes an affirmation every day: "Today I want to meet good people." By saying the affirmation, we set the stage – or the expectation – to attract a matching answer, whether it be an important contact, relevant information, or someone who can open a door for us.
These are just a few of the elements that go into my research process. In Part II, I'll share more about pulling together the information and resources for the creation of nonfiction.
Carol Adrienne, Ph.D., is an internationally-known author and intuitive counsellor whose books on numerology, purpose, and change have been translated into over fifteen languages. She co-authored the Celestine Prophecy Experiential Guidebooks, and Oprah hailed her best-selling book, The Purpose Of Your Life, a must-read. Her website is www.CarolAdrienne.com.
[Author's photo by Gary McAvoy]