Do you ever find yourself not writing when you should be? Happens to me all the time. Sometimes, it is because I am too lazy, or have been submitting for days and need a break, or I am getting a beta review...but sometimes, it is just because I am reading, watching, or listening to something in my genre to try and improve or to scope out the competition.
This is a vital part of the process of being a writer. Never stop researching--and seeking out inspirational media, reading in your genre, and learning more about some aspect of your world are all research. Pay attention to everything, because you never know what will become important later on. Some examples: there was a train explosion and derailment in an episode of Hell on Wheels. Since a great deal of the travel in my Steampunk world is by steam train, now I know where to go if I want to see how it is done and use some of that detail. I recently took my first train ride. If I had taken it before I wrote the book, I would have been able to add more verisimilitude. It isn't easy to walk on a train...
Reading what other people are writing in your genre can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you get a feel for what is out there...on the other, you can feel way out of your league. I am reading two books I highly recommend: A Midsummer Night's Steampunk by Scott Tarbet, and Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, an anthology set in the world of Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. These books have both shown me how much I have to learn about Steampunk while at the same time, giving me fresh inspiration.
Anything can turn out to be inspirational or research. Keep your eyes and ears open and paying attention to the world around you. A bit of overheard cell conversation the other day became the basis for my latest short story. Carry your notebook everywhere. Jot down anything that tweaks your imagination.
And if anyone chides you for wasting time you could be working...tell them it's research. ;)