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What's Your Biggest Writing Struggle?

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#21 [url]

Jan 24 13 5:49 PM

I think my biggest challenge is that I'm not a writer! I think the last time I really wrote was over 20 years ago doing academic papers in university. So, my writing struggle will be writing something that sounds half decent. 

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#22 [url]

Jan 25 13 5:25 AM

Ah...Nicb, declare it and it will be so. Writing is really about rewriting and revising. And I'll write a post about this very early on. Don't be afraid to write crab. Very few writers sit down and write wonderful prose right out of the box. The first pass will be garbage, but now you have something to work from revise and develop. If you don't start somewhere, there is no way to move forward. Writing is a process and a journey of self-discovery, don't go out looking for perfection just focus on starting. 

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#24 [url]

Jan 26 13 12:18 PM

I have two "biggest writing struggles" (am I allowed two? LOL)

My first biggest writing struggle is to stop researching and actually WRITE.  I just love the detective work of finding "stuff" out - perhaps too much.

My second biggest writing struggle is "how dare you put words in their mouths".  I watched the wonderful video about the fire hero, and am reading the book "Oh, Beautiful", but I tend to think "where do they get all these details from? do they just make them up as they go along - and isn't that wrong?"

For example: say you have an ancestor that you have placed in a certain event, like the coming of electric light to his town.  You have no idea how he thought about this, and it was far enough back that there is nobody alive to remember.  Did he gasp in awe? or did he think "dratted newfangled stuff, people will have forgotten it by Christmas"?  And what gives you the right to say which attitude he had?

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#25 [url]

Jan 26 13 6:19 PM

Hi ros,
I had the same dilemma while writing my novel on my family history. We can never be certain what our ancestors thought but perhaps we can get an idea of the type of person they were and base their thoughts on that.
If he was a business man, and electric light would have helped his career, make more money etc, then his opinion would have been excitement and awe perhaps, and a bit of rubbing the hands together in anticipation.
If the introduction of electric light hindered his career; ie perhaps he was a labourer and a traditional thinker, then perhaps he would have thought a lot differently.
You have to get to know your ancestor as though he is a real person, (he was once) not just a character in the book.
Think about his religion, his career, groups he was involved in and how this might have affected his way of thinking.

My ancestor (main character) had some issues with a fellow towns person and  I had to imagine how  they felt about each other. Newspapers actually did give me that to a certain degree. I was very fortunate. But I had to expand on it and create some conflict prior to the incident in the newspaper, a build up to the incident.
I took a long time researching, years in fact. Each news article became a chapter and then I worked the chapters in together., This seemed to work all right

If you are writing this as a novel then you have the freedom to add what you want. Only you can make the choice as too how much you add.
I did make a point, to all my relo's who wanted to buy the book, that this was a novel and I have used my imagination.

My book, "Echoes of a Blacksmith' was self-published last year, and I am very happy with the path I chose to write it.

Hope this helps

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#26 [url]

Jan 26 13 7:31 PM

The difference between what John Paul Godges did in Oh Beautiful and what the video about the fireman showed is that the first used dialog based on actual family tellings of the stories. He interviewed his parents and relatives and got the gist of how they felt about the events in their lives. The video, however, doesn't ever put words into the ancestor's mouth. He simply started was more like a memoir...a discovery about the time and place. When he finally found the artifacts about his grandfather (?), there were enough details about the events that we, the reader, make up our own feelings about it. 

I, too, feel strongly about not wanting to put thought/words in my characters' mouth that might not be true. While I am tempted to write it as a novel based on a true story, I think there might be a greater impact as a memoir. There are some vignettes that I can write because of the depth of information I have, but these would be mostly done in narrative. Any speculation must be written as such so that the reader sees the author's journey of discovery.

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#27 [url]

Jan 27 13 6:21 AM

Ros, you are not alone in this struggle. Probably the biggest struggle we face. As family historians we are rooted in facts, now we transform into family history writer...and you want me to make things up? It's difficult too think this way. 

However, Margaret has expressed it quite well. You are the writer, so the path you take is completely your own choice and as long as you are honest with your audience about the creative liberties you take. I believe there are three important tools that could make you feel a little more comfortable in this regard. A good examination of the social history of the time, interviews with your relatives you knew the ancestor and a good character sketch based on your research.  I'll expand on this more in an upcoming newsletter. And as Deb suggests taking the route of a memoir is one way to speculate on your ancestor's lives while making it clear they are your thoughts and part of your journey. 

At the end of the day, you have to do what you're comfortable with and what is fitting for your vision of the book. 

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#28 [url]

Jan 28 13 7:56 PM

Thanks Lyn.

Ros, just to give you an idea of what I wrote about my ancestor, Joseph Simpson, and his thoughts on the fellow with whom he would later have dealings with.  This was my way of setting up some kind of concern on Joseph's part. 

John Taylor was galloping past. He noticed Joseph standing by the roadside and pulled back into a trot, reining in a few feet from where Joseph stood. Dust stirred as the horse tackled the manoeuvre of its skilled rider. John Taylor nodded. “Joseph”.

Joseph acknowledged him.

 “See you got your land.”

“Yeah. Finally. Took their bloody time about it though.” Joseph replied.

John Taylor remained on his horse. He removed his hat pushing his light brown hair off his face. “I’d like to discuss some business with you.” he said, placing his hat back on. “You got time now?”

Joseph looked at Taylor. Something about the man concerned him; his manner, the way he got things done, his competitiveness. Joseph nodded. “I’ll hear you.”

As it turned out, Joseph did not want to go along with John Taylor's business venture and a lot of rivalry began between the two men. 

In the end I took a few more liberties than I had intended, but still sticking to the main facts, I even researched climate at the time, buildings that were existing or not existing. ie court houses

The other thing I did was add a complete list of my sources at the back of the book, so if in doubt the reader can find the true facts themselves and compare if they so wish.

Someone once told me, 'If its a novel then it is not a family history'.  This will always be one of those fence arguments - I like sitting on the wall myself.  

Hope this helps

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#30 [url]

Jan 29 13 8:33 AM

Fear that I won't do them justice is my biggest obstacle.  Otherwise I seem to get bogged down in the facts and lose the story.

Connie from WV stuck here in Florida

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#31 [url]

Jan 29 13 9:23 AM

I have my person but am bogged down by the stories that explain her struggles. I want to write this as a narrative but my mind tends to go more towards a more fictional account. To tell her story, I have to go back to her early life. I have to show how her mother survived without her husband and then, how what she learned from her mother helped her survive when her husband was murdered. Much of that information will have to be guesstimated.

The post by margaretst was helpful. Taking a page out of her book, I opted for a more fictional style. The example below is completely factual since it was taken from my great grandmother's letters. The rest of it will have to be straddling the fence based on the records and the research of the times.  

Jan 1, 1919


She sat at the desk in her upstairs bedroom watching. It was raining and the Clinch River was higher than normal. She kept her eye on it praying it wouldn’t flood again. The river ruined last year’s corn crop. They’d been safe; river people always built their houses high. Looking at the paper, she continued to write. 


“Wm, I am 71-yrs-old this morning and I want to talk to my absent children.”


She stopped writing, lost in thought. Only Victor and his family lived in the old home now. For a one-year-old who was just walking, Little Jewell could make an awful racket but she was grateful for the noise. She could hear the echoes of the absent children as if they were still home, eight of them slamming doors and hollering at each other. She picked up her pen again.


“What I can and truly hope that when the end of their road is as near in sight as mine, they can rejoice as I can, that rest is near.” 


She put the pen down again and slowly pushed herself out of the chair. “I’ll finish later,” she told herself and little by little made her way down the stairs.


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#32 [url]

Jan 30 13 4:19 AM

Mine is handling my deep-rooted researcher mentality (am an academic researcher by profession) so that I can produce an engaging narrative from the core documentary evidence I have - remaining true to the evidence but avoiding it becoming a simple recording of the facts. The evidence of course always has big gaps - so it is how to deal with those gaps without getting into the realm of fiction. Or perhaps giving myself permission to write it as fiction using the deductions from the evidence as the core structure? I am not planning to write one big history on this challenge as it is my first foray into writing up my family history. Instead I will use it to get my blog going and experiment with different styles of writing and see whether a particular style (or styles) feel like a good fit. 

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#34 [url]

Jan 30 13 12:41 PM

Hey, Janet.  I have the same problem, and maybe it is because, like you, I've done a lot of academic research in my past career.  I'm wanting to write more stories and less citations.  Working on it anyway.  I love the blogging.  It helps so much.  

Bettyann Schmidt rhinegirl.blogspot.cim

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#35 [url]

Jan 30 13 3:30 PM

Hey, Janet.  I have the same problem, and maybe it is because, like you, I've done a lot of academic research in my past career.  I'm wanting to write more stories and less citations.  Working on it anyway.  I love the blogging.  It helps so much.  


Oh yes - citations! Need to at least consign these to end notes!! Glad it isn't just me. 

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#36 [url]

Jan 30 13 4:06 PM

On the topic of end notes (to janet & cmcbetty), when I had applied for an NEH grant, the adjudicators recommended writing end notes in the style of David McCoullough (1776). This is pretty much the standard for notes for historical narrative. While authors like Adam Goodheart (1861) use superscript numbers. The consensus was that publishers do not like the numbers anymore. By not using numbers, it reads more like a novel, but it's historical narrative.

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#37 [url]

Jan 30 13 9:16 PM

On the topic of end notes/style. I have experience writing in academia with master's thesis and Doctoral dissertations and even edited a book on brain function; but, last fall, as a true newbie at a genealogical conference, I asked several of the vendors for style guides.  They didn't seam to have anything to offer.  So, time passes and daily genealogy encounters brings me here.   I understand the importance of citations.  I have noticed MLA, Chicago and APA styles.  I have seen foot notes and end notes.  My question remains:  Is there a preference as to style for genealogists.

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#38 [url]

Jan 31 13 4:43 AM

With regards to endnotes and styles, the go to person in the genealogical industry is Elizabeth Shown Mills. Ms. Mills has developed what is referred to as the Evidence Style and it is an extension of Chicago Style. You can learn more about how to apply this style in her book Evidence Explained, she also has quicksheets. She also has a website . 

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#39 [url]

Feb 1 13 4:54 PM

Janet brings up a really good point -- the difference between facts and a story. Big question! Janet, you mention avoiding "a simple recording of the facts." I agree. A story needs a fully human element, I think, a cluster of feelings and thoughts that extend past the simple facts. If not, there will be no story, no characters, no plot, no theme. Facts can be purely "objective," but a story really can't, and shouldn't. 

For example, if you tell a family history in your own voice, you can write down your own feelings and thoughts (you will certainly have some!) about your ancestors' possible feelings and thoughts at certain points, based on the evidence. Evidence always stirs up a writer's feelings and thoughts, so it's fair to write all that down. That's being as "true to the evidence" as you need to be. 

But I certainly agree that it's hard as a writer to "loosen up" in this way if you have an academic background. I have one too. Keeps you from "coloring outside the lines." But what fun is that??

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#40 [url]

Feb 2 13 6:00 AM

anitab & Samantha, I am writing again this year. I still have difficulties in concentrating on writing rather than research but still sneak in new findings here & there. I just think: What would my family rather get from me... boxes and files of documents & notes or a book, even if it does not answer every question?

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