Authors and Books: Is It Possible to Research Too Much?

I recently read a Writer’s Digest interview with the prolific, wildly successful author, Dennis Lehane. He was asked: “Is it possible to do too much research?”

Very much. I lost a year on The Given Day. A complete waste of time. Ever since The Given Day, I write and as I’m writing and I get to a moment where I need a fact –– “What did a pack of cigarettes cost in 1921?” –– then I look it up. I research as needed. I don’t pre-research –– never again. I know a bunch of facts about 1918 and unless I get on “Jeopardy” and it happens to be a category, they’re completely useless to me. ~ Dennis Lehane ~ Writer’s Digest, October 2015 issue


If you have read The Given Day you know the depth of Lehane’s research to bring the story of the people of Boston to life in that long-ago time of 1918-1919. His follow-up book, Live by NIght follows a character from the previous book, now all grown-up and in trouble. I believe the book begins about ten years after The Given Day, and then quickly flashes back to six or seven years after, in Boston, and moves around from there.

I have not yet read LIve by NIght, but when I read Lehane’s quote about the aftermath of The Given Day, his new mindset on researching, I thought, ‘well, okay, so Boston is his home. He knows the city, has written about the city, and the research for 1918-1919 is behind him. But LIve by NIght is about prohibition and crime on a level beyond the streets of one major city, and surely he needed to know more than the price of cigarettes in 1921.

Look at this: Lehane wrote his first book in 1994, his second in 1996, third in 1997, fourth in 1998, fifth in 1999, sixth in 2001, seventh in 2003, eighth in 2006 ( a play I believe), ninth (The Given Day) in 2008, tenth in 2009, eleventh in 2010, twelfth and thirteenth (Live by NIght) in 2012, fourteenth and fifteenth in 2014 and sixteenth in 2015.

Ignored in the above are his short stories. At least three of his books were adapted for major motion pictures: Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island. Live by Night will appear on the big screen in 2017 with Ben Affleck the screenwriter and director.

The lesson (I think) for those of us not with three, six, ten or sixteen books to our credit: We do what’s needed to make our book come to life, and can only hope to do it as well as  Lehane in The Given Day. Maybe there is a day for us when we can advise others to scale back on research, save time, save frustration and get a book to market quicker. Find a review of The Given Day here.


Linked in The Dick Stone Daily – thank you! Read intriguing headlines here.

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