Every occupation has its associated injuries. Miners, firemen, nurses etc, but writers? Apparently so. There I was quite happily typing in my research notes, assembling them into useful groups, and slotting them into the structural plan, when I felt a wee twinge in my back. It grew gradually worse and then my fingertips started tingling. The next morning, pain, excrutiating pain through my shoulder and down my arm and wrist! Now I’m waiting for a physiotherapy appointment while munching painkillers like sweeties and not writing. So, how do you write when you can’t? You read! Making progress is what counts, and I will get back to the typing soon enough. I’m stalled on 15,000 words, about 10,000 of which are any good, and my shoulder is really sair, but the project is still on track.
There is a truism in warfare that battle plans never survive first contact with the enemy. The same might be said of writing this book. I have been laying out my first tranche of findings, mostly background material, but I’m getting that feeling of sticking square pegs in round holes. I can almost see the plan changing with each new inclusion. But a changed plan isn’t a lost plan, and new ideas for how this book might flow keep springing up. I still know roughly where this is going and this week has shown that even the most mundane writing tasks can be exciting.
I’m learning that there is no one way to write. The process for creating this new book, for example, is very different from the one I deployed for An Evil Day in Georgia. With Evil Day, I worked out from a single source, incorporating new material into an established narrative. This new project has accounts of a death and then… nothing! Or at least nothing tangible; a probable birth date, a probable marriage etc and that is it. Research has been, therefore, very hit and miss, but how do you know what is hitting when you have no target? To find my subject, I have been mining archives to build the world in which he lived and to establish a likely biographical trajectory. That has led to some fascinating discoveries but nothing to hang my book on, not yet anyway. Beginning this week, I am writing down everything I have to see what might fit. Hopefully, I will be able to stitch it all together, but there is still a lot to do.
I had cause to reflect this morning as I typed up my latest research notes. I had been feeling a bit sorry for myself on Thursday as I trudged to the Metro from my latest shift in Newcastle City Library. It was raining, I didn’t get a seat on the Metro, and I still hadn’t found my murder victim! Such is the loneliness of the independent historian. But in reality, there is no such thing. Even on such a simple expedition, other people played a role. The editor of the Hexham Historian had sent me a list of potentially useful articles, and the courteous librarian retrieved the material I needed. I came home to emails from strangers I had asked for help to identify obscure characters, and we can add other strangers who offered information on my last trip out to the scene of the murder I am researching. There is of course Carolanne who has been driving me into the middle of nowhere for almost as long as we’ve been married, and recently my cousin Lynne sliced out some of her valuable time to wade through mud, climb a hill, and drive me to look at a blank wall along a muddy lane. So the next time you read a history book and wonder why the writer has included three pages of acknowledgements, now you know!
It’s been a while since I posted on my website. There are reasons for that, most of them not worth going into here. But with a new book length project underway and the start of a new year, it might be time to brush off the cobwebs and get this thing moving again. To that end, the plan is for one new book, maybe two, and more writing productivity in general. And while I am happy with my current crop of tutees, I could add one or two more. But as I found out in 2017, plans are one thing, reality quite another. On that cheerful note, Happy New Year for 2018!
It is easy to lose track of a blog, or any piece of writing for that matter. In the last two weeks, I have enjoyed a trip to Surrey and to a much lesser extent another knee surgery. The blog slipped away, perhaps as might be expected. Climbing back into the routine of writing, though, is never quite as easy as you think it should be; inertia bends towards the least activity, and there is the added hurdle of reaching too high on your grand comeback. So you find yourself floundering for the right idea to get the writing motor running, something useful or even profound. The answer, of course, is that if you want to write, write! If you are writing for a purpose, a school paper maybe, you can fix your errors when you edit, but you need to start by getting your thoughts on to the screen or paper. If you are writing for a blog, or just to flex the fingers across the keyboard, well you end up with …this!