I SHOULD WRITE A BOOK !!
Have you ever said to yourself, "I should write a book!" Or perhaps someone said it to you.
Family Tree Circles is a great place to start!
Write the things you know, about your family, about where they lived, what their enviroment was like.
There are many, many people who come in here not just to collect names and dates but to collect history and recollections. It puts them in the picture, helps them to relate to what it must have been like for their own ancestors.
Gauge the reaction to what you've written.
Is anyone commenting?
Has it been 'viewed'?
and I mean viewed by others in here besides yourself.
Has your story been completely overlooked?
If it has been overlooked, edit it, change your heading. Headings should tease the reader, make them want to read on.
Back in 1986 I wrote a simple sentence on a blackboard, " My Aunt Laura, sewed her diamonds inside her corsets!" I didn't write another sentence about aunt Laura and I cannot tell you how many times over the last 25 years I've been asked for the whole story.
Below are some tips. Also, a presentation from a woman far more knowledgeable than myself about writing family history.
• Share the writing journey, join a writing group, share your writing with other family historians.
• Write early, write quickly
• Writing can begin at any time
• Research and writing go together
• Keep your words simple, short, active, vary length, tone and style
• Get someone to read and edit your writing. Spelling mistakes and bad grammar is annoying to your readers and a sure fire way of losing their interest.
• Write about solving your research
• There is no ‘right’ way to write your family history
• Not too many sunsets! show don’t tell
• Fill in the gaps with interpretation, imagination, judicious assumptions
• Revise, re-write, revise, re-write – good writing = many drafts
• Write for your readers
• Plan your writing
• Nostalgia and sentiment can provide the passion for writing
Remember it’s your writing and in the end you can write however, and about whatever you want.
The Presentation below was given by Noeline Kyle at the NSW & ACT Family History Societies Annual conference, in Blackheath, New South Wales on the 18th September, 2004
Share the writing journey
Family history research to be successful is a shared activity. And from my experience this works for writing family history too. Get in touch with me to find out how to start a family history writing
group within your family history society. Join a writing group, learn creative writing, go to writing workshops; all of these will provide inspiration for your writing.
Don’t separate your self out from your writing, the writing part of yourself is an integral part of who you are. Let it grow, and go on to meet and enjoy other writing challenges, other writing interests,
write other family stories.
Research and writing go together
If you write early you will familiarise yourself with your characters, with your documents, with the events of your family stories – you will see the gaps sooner, and you will be able to determine much earlier whether you actually fill those gaps or you leave them and move on…
A Writing Roadmap
For any kind of history writing a roadmap is important. Otherwise you will not know where you are going, just like when you are driving the car. And you won’t know how to select and interpret and best use all those documents and other information you have collected.
A writing roadmap is a plan – you can begin with a simple list of proposed chapters, or perhaps start with origins, move on to arrival in Australia, perhaps occupations. A roadmap or plan will change as you become more knowledgeable but it will always be there to focus your writing and keep you on track.
Who are your readers? Will they dictate how you write?
Who are your readers? Who are you writing for? Your answer to these questions will determine how you write and what you write . It will determine what other questions you will want to ask when doing the family history, it will determine everything about your writing. For most of us our readers are our family. And that’s your market, if you decide you want to publish and sell your book.
From Belfast to Bellbrook! Origin, arrivals and barriers to writing about it We travel back, either by the internet or in reality, to England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany … And we feel connected somehow to that place….we see the castles, the cobbled streets, the lochs, the medieval architecture, the thatched roofs, the quaint pubs, and we fall in love… This is not such a bad thing, landscape, linking into distance and geography in the past, trying to come to grips with
the different kinds of spaces and place our ancestors lived in….gives us more scope for our writing.
But there is a limit to this – your writing about origins should have a level of critique about it,otherwise it becomes sentimental and unreal .
Characters – What would we do without them!
Most of us have a character we like a lot in our family history.
One of the ways to begin the process of writing is to focus on that
character and ask yourself why she or he is so compelling for you.
Ask questions such as where did you meet her? (and I mean where in
your research did you meet her). What does she mean to you as a
character in your family history?
Historical context? Imagination? Interpretation? Assumptions?– are there too many things to think of? Are these the barriers to your writing?
What I mean by interpretation is that historical activity we do when we draw inferences and assumptions from our documents, and from what we know about broader historical trends and link these to family events. Interpretation sits alongside imagination as one of the key writing strategies to bring your family history to life. Interpretation is a practical task (it can be simply poring over
your documents and taking from these themes and ideas and stories for your writing), or it can be more than this. It can be linking into the imaginative and creative task of assessing your family
history, its events, its ups and downs, and linking to the bigger historical events at a national, or international level
Nostalgia, sentiment and blazing sunsets!
For the professional historian the words nostalgia and sentiment are anathema, they are the scourge of good history. We are told we are simply too romantic about the past, that all we are doing family
history is some kind of pop history that has no value. But in family history I think we should fight back. We need nostalgia and we need sentiment. Nostalgia lives in the same space as memory, and we can see that when we talk to our older relatives. We need that passion that drives us to research and write… While at the same time, we recognise that the sunsets and the characters that we do describe are not one-dimensional but complex, contradictory, compassionate and as historically accurate as we can make them.
References and further reading:
• Australian Government, Department of Finance & Administration Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers,
John Wiley & Sons, Milton, Qld, 2002.
• Cameron, J. The Artists Way: A Course in discovering and Recovering your Creative Self, Pan Books, 1994.
• Donovan, Peter, So, You want to Write history? Donovan & Associates, Blackwood, 1992.
• Dunn, Irina, The Writer’s Guide: A Companion to Writing for Pleasure or Publication, Allen & Unwin, Sydney,
• Edwards, Hazel, Writing a ‘non-boring’ Family History, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1997.
• Kaplan, Bruce, Editing Made Easy: Secrets of the Professionals, Penguin Books, 2003.
• Kempthorne, C., For All Time: A Complete Guide to Writing Your Family History, Boynton/Cook Publishers,
Portsmouth, 1996, available at: the LifeStory Institute.
• Kyle, Noeline J., The Family History Writing Book, (available from the author, Mullumbimby, 2003, or from your family history society, see also Gould Genealogy Genealogical Society of Victoria,
& NSW Writer's Centre
Reference: HAWKESBURY CRIER (DECEMBER 2004)ISSN 0811-9031
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