Doing Distressing Research

Because of my current treatment plan (for breast cancer) and my resulting emotional fatigue, it’s been hard to get excited about working on the new novel. Another reason for my reluctance was the type of research I was doing.

The novel I’m planning to write is based on the true experiences of a woman who was taken captive during one of the most brutal Indian wars in U.S. history. To get a broader background, I decided to read a 400-page book on the beginning of the conflict. I have to say, it was one of the hardest reads I’ve done in a long time. The book went into excruciating detail about the violence committed during the conflict. Some of it was really barbaric.

It’s not like I’ve never done this sort of research before. As a textbook editor and writer, I have covered some really horrible periods of history in which humans have committed unspeakable horrors against each other. Immersing myself in such knowledge always depresses me. I remember one three-week period in which I had to write a chapter on Reconstruction. Having to spend all my working hours dealing with stories of lynchings and the other forms of terrorism inflicted on the recently freed slaves left me feeling so sad and heavy. I was never so glad to be finished with a chapter!

With that assignment, at least, I knew I’d be done after a relatively short time. In contrast, my novel will probably take me a couple of years from research to final revisions. As I read that book that described attack after attack, I began to wonder if I’m really up to dealing with this oppressive material—especially since I’m already dealing with other stressors.

Well, for the time being, I’ve decided to soldier through. I’m just going to have to alternate the upsetting reading with research about more pleasant things, such as fashion or native culture. Fortunately, my main character didn’t personally witness too many barbarities, so I can limit my exposure to that material should I need to. At least, that’s the plan for now.


Filed under 19th century life, Research

16 responses to “Doing Distressing Research

  1. Reading about native Indian culture has always lifted my spirits. They were so in-tuned with nature, in ways we will never be again.

  2. Fashion is fine 🙂 live lightly and fully and above all, avoid all the unnecessary stressors.When you are more serene, you’ll go back to your Indians. Cheers. Stefy.

  3. Please be open to considering setting this research aside right now. Your tender spirit needs to be able to support the work of healing.

  4. Alternating sounds like a good plan. Hang in there!!!

  5. I think it’s really brave to tackle stuff like this. It’s one of the reasons I like to make everything up when I write. I can’t really be bothered all that much by stuff in my stories if it’s not real. 🙂 But there are a lot of really non-distressing material to draw on too. I find that culture so fascinating. I wish I would take more time to read up on it.

  6. BobCoates

    I think I know the person you are talking about. I read that book too. it is a fascinating story.

  7. A pretty heavy topic for someone going through cancer treatments–be sure to take some time for some more light-hearted activities!

  8. Hope your treatments are going well, Ruth. It’s difficult to do depressing research at the best of times so it would be particularly hard now. Take a break from time to time and focus on something that warms your heart and lifts your spirit. When I was working on my medieval novel and researching the ugliness of the plague I’d put it down and go out into the field to be with our horses. Horses can be very calming and I always felt refreshed after being around them for awhile.

  9. Thanks, Linnea. The treatments seem to be going well I can imagine how depressing research about the plague would be. I don’t have horses, but my dog is giving me lots of cuddles these days.

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