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The standard method of writing is to first pick a topic, thrash out some basic plot (even if you’re a ‘pantser’, you normally have some idea of what type of story you want to write) and then research. But there is no reason why you can’t start with the research (other than procrastination. DON’T procrastinate).

How can you start with the research when you don’t know what to write? Follow these three easy steps:

1) Start with a genre.

I’m currently in the process of reading a crime fiction novel, so I’m going to go with that here.

2) Find some free courses (MOOCs) in said topic.

Continuing with the crime fiction example, I’d try Coursera’s Introduction to Forensic Science (https://www.coursera.org/course/ntufsc ) or Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination (https://www.coursera.org/course/forensicaccounting ), or FutureLearn’s Introduction to Forensic Science (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/introduction-to-forensic-science ), Forensic Science and Criminal Justice (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/forensic-crim-justice ) or Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/forensic-psychology ).

Writing historical fiction? There’s a plethora of courses covering various eras on both Coursera (search for ‘history’ or under ‘humanities’ on https://www.coursera.org/courses ) and FutureLearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/categories/history ).

3) Do your chosen courses (whether it’s low-level participation or completion) and become inspired.

I’m now going to stop procrastinating and head back to revisit the very worthwhile The American South: Its Stories, Music, and Art MOOC on Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/course/south ). What? It’s research…