Journaling for Research


writing the cozy mysteryby Nancy Cohen

Your experiences and travels provide fodder for future works and should be recorded. When I wrote travel journals years ago, little did I realize that I’d be mining those notes decades later for my Drift Lords series. I’d been to Hong Kong in 1978, yet today many of the sights, sounds, and sensory impressions remain the same. Thus I sought my notes for Warrior Rogue, in which a scene takes place in that great city. Ditto for the other locations around the globe in my paranormal series—Los Angeles, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and Arizona. You never know when a bit of research will come in handy.

I’ve been journaling my travels ever since I can remember. I never related this talent to my father’s writing ability until I edited his 1929 true-life travel adventure titled Thumbs Up. Who knew this is where my drive to write everything down had come from? Thanks, Dad. And from my mother came the attention to detail. She described every scene in a way that made me more observant.

Now, for my latest Bad Hair Day mystery, I’ve turned again to my notes. Years ago, I accepted an invitation to go backstage at a fashion show to observe the goings-on. In particular, I took note of the hairdressers and their role in prepping the models. I used all this info in a chapter I just completed for my current work in progress.

How did I find this material? I write my observations, travel journals, and on-location research notes in various small notebooks. I use colored tabs to divide the sections. Then I sticker them with a number and detail the contents on a separate list. Conference notes, on-scene research, and experiences that may someday be relevant to my work go into these journals. So this time, I looked on my list and saw Fashion Show under number two. I pulled out this notebook and there they were: copious notes that would prove highly useful for my scene-in-progress.

The lesson here is for you to pay attention to your surroundings and experiences. Take notes on anything that might become useful to your writing. Chronicle your trips and record your sensory impressions along with unusual observations, sights, and experiences. Take notes during conference workshops. Then organize the material so you can find it later. Consider it a legacy to pass down to your kids. They might throw out your journals, or they might treasure them like I do my parents’ writings. Never miss an opportunity to record a slice of life.

Do you take random notes when you go places, even if you can foresee no immediate use for them?

Nancy Cohen has written twelve Bad Hair Day mysteries, three books in the Drift Lords series (paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy romance), two sci-fi romances, three books in the Light Years series (sci-fi), a romantic mystery novella, and a non-fiction book, Writing the Cozy Mystery. For more information on Nancy’s latest books, go to: This article first appeared in Nancy’s blog on October 20.


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