Friday, February 17, 2012

Research and Writing

The February Family History Writing Challenge, sponsored by the Armchair Genealogist is going well for me, though it's hard work.  You know the saying, "Nothing good comes easy."  I used to tell my kids that whenever they seemed too lazy to reach for a hard goal.

Writing is hard.

Writing that requires research (actually all writing does) is especially hard.

This month-long challenge is intended for us to write the stories, period.  Get that first draft down.  We should mark the spots in our manuscripts where we need to come back to fill in details, etc.

And I was following that advice.  The problem is that when I'm writing, sometimes I "want" that piece of research.  I want it now.  Not later.  Could the information make a difference in my writing the rest of the story ?  Might that information slant my story from there on out?  I'm afraid it might, so here's what I've been doing.

When I need to research something while I'm writing, I go to my minimized web window and see what I can find in as short a time as possible.  Then I copy and paste to my manuscript the facts I want to use.  Sometimes I paste several paragraphs of research findings, which I'll be able to sort out, cut down, and customize to my story  later in rewrite. I also use a red font for this added research.

Then I save the changes and proceed telling the story.  I realize this pasted text adds falsely to my word count, but that's a minor problem, and not really a problem at all, because if I really want to be precise on where I'm at on words, I can block the inserted section, see the word count, and subtract that number from the overall count.  Below is an example of how I added some research on the fly from a website, marked it plainly, including the source, and kept on writing the narrative

Another explanation for the difficulty that German Catholics, in particular, faced in trying to get jobs in the new country was that while many immigrants came with funds to buy land or had technical skills and could work as tradesmen, not all who came to Cincinnati fit into this group.  
"German Catholic immigrants were often denied work at publicly financed construction jobs, and were excluded from joining clubs established by native-born Cincinnatians. German customs clashed with the lifestyle of American-born Protestants who frowned upon the way that German families spent Sundays in theaters, saloons, and various singing societies. Catholic loyalty to the pope in Rome seemed to prohibit the notion that these foreigners could ever become proper American citizens. This anxiety grew, resulting in the formation of the “Know-Nothing” party in the 1850s. A political group of nativists, they were alarmed as immigrants, Catholics, Jews and blacks streamed into “their city.” The panic continued to grow, causing a major riot on Cincinnati streets."  HTTP://WWW.CINCINNATI-CITYOFIMMIGRANTS.COM/CCI/GERMAN.HTM
I've also started typing notes and reminders right into the manuscript at the end of the current story.  For example, as I was writing a few days ago, I thought about how I should insert a photo of my grandmother's old Domestic sewing machine she gave to one of her daughters, my Aunt Clara, who in turn gave it to me when I was a teenager, and which I still have.  At the appropriate place in the book, around the time Grandma would have been using the machine, I'd like to see a picture of it, along with maybe the story of how Aunt Clara taught me to pump the treadle with my foot and sew up a seam, and about all the clothes I made for myself on that old machine.

In a red font I typed ** insert sewing machine photo** a number of spaces down from where my cursor currently resided.  As I typed, of course, the inserted red note moved down as well, to remain at the end of whatever I was typing.

Then another time, I decided I'd been looking back to my notes, or to Ancestry's Family Tree Maker, too many times to check dates of birth, death, or marriage, or which street one ancestor lived on at a particular time, so I inserted, again in red, the information down there with my sewing machine note.  This gave my fingers freedom to fly and not be distracted by small things I shouldn't let hinder me.

Below is an example of a few of my notes at the bottom of my current manuscript page, which move right along behind me.

valentine b: 1828 d: 1899 m: 1855 1933-34 jos and mary W. riddle rd. dates of deaths in order
 I'm seeing now that so many things happen when you follow the advice of all those great writers who say if you want to write, you just have to write, write, write every day.  Not think about writing, but just doing it on a regular schedule.

What happens when you immerse yourself in the writing is you become involved in your story, your book, you begin figuring out things on your own, you remember advice and tips you've stored away in your now hard-working brain.

It's all good!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Challenge Day 3

I'm excited about what I've done so far in the past two days on Somewhere Over the Rhine, my family memoir.  I'm beginning to see this looking like a book.

I decided yesterday to insert a family chart for my grandfather Frank Dean at the beginning of "The Dean of Orangeburg" chapter for my family readers to refer to easily as the various ancestors pop up in the writing.  Likewise, today I plan to put "The Wehrles from Baden" chart on the first page of that chapter.

Big Surprise!!  Discovered on a genealogy forum another Valentine Wehrle descendent who supplied me with the ship's passage info I've been beating my brain out to find for years.  Great, great grandfather Valentine and wife Maria docked at New Orleans in 1852, having sailed from La Havre, France.  Valentine's father's name was Franz Anton Wehrle from Wurttenburg-Baden.  Love it!

I'm happy with the Dean chapter, which I finished yesterday, and when I go back to edit -- hopefully next month -- it'll clean up easily and be what I intended.

This kind of writing is the hardest for me, though I would have thought otherwise.  I mean, I'm writing about what I know, which usually is the easiest, but because of the research, the facts and documents, and the historic timeline, it's tedious work.

I am  relieved to be finishing this project finally and so grateful I heard about this challenge in time to take part.  Back to work now.