As the temperatures drop, the days shorten (at least here in the northern hemisphere) and the trees lose their leaves, the momentum for writing about family history wanes too. To combat my own lethargy and procrastination, I developed a list of family history writing strategies for fall and into winter.
Writing Strategies for Fall and Winter Blahs
When the days are grey and rainy and the feather comforter beckons, here are a few ideas that might help you keep your writing on track.
Although there’s a non-fiction version, I recommend work as rebels with the non-fiction authors, especially if you’re telling family stories or writing ancestor profiles. Your writing about “characters” of the past. Remember, that “truth is stranger than fiction” is more than a cliché.
As a plus, they even give you a dandy participant badge to display on your social media.
- Steal a page from fiction writers. “Interview” your ancestor.
Fiction writers interview their characters. It’s a practice that helps them cement that character’s point of view. The exercise is also great for biographers. Instead of conjuring up a backstory, you dwell on what the historical person’s physical and emotional surroundings might be like.
I’ve found The Gotham Writers Unconventional Character Questions helpful. You may have to skip a few “unknowables,” but it does enable you to yourself in their place and helps you project their personalities.
- While you’re stealing, pick up a few tips from mystery writers.
Most genealogists love a good mystery. Why then, wouldn’t most mystery readers love a genealogical puzzle?
What mysteries are there in your family tree? What’s unsolved? Instead of writing a start to finish, birth to death summary of that person or situation, present it as a mystery. Foreshadow events without giving them away. Let your readers explore clues along with you. Surprise them with the outcome.
- Research the social-historical backdrop of your family’s story
Own your inner research nerd and study your ancestors setting. This is particularly powerful if your ancestors stayed in the same geographical location for generations.
Looking back on that localities history, you might uncover some things you didn’t know about your family. Even if you don’t, you’ll strengthen your connection to them, which leads to better writing.
- Think about the readers rather than the word count
This turns NaNoWriMo on its head. Rather than focusing on a word-count, put yourself in your readers and descendants’ shoes. What would they want to know about their ancestors? Which of those questions can you answer? What theories can you develop?
- (Bonus!) Use a calendar prompt
Working with the GeneaBloggersTRIBE.com’ calendar, I’m surprised at how many family stories and memories come to mind when I look at the daily prompts.
Simple things like watching TV with my sister, enjoying the new-found freedom of my mom returning to the workforce. Major events that took place and how we (mis)understood them. What my parents and grandparents used to tell me about things they’d witnessed. My list goes on. I’m sure yours will too.
How do you power through fall and winter to keep your family history writing on track? What’s worked well for you? Less well? I’d love to hear your thoughts.