Writing Tools

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My daughter asked me to blog about my writing process. I have been thinking about that request at the same time that I have been stuck. It isn’t so much that I have writer’s block. It is more that I keep getting confused. I am having trouble keeping track of the dates and who-was-where-when and some of the facts of the story are still missing.

Yesterday I had a flashback. I faced the same type of confusion when I was working on my dissertation a billion years ago. Back then I decided that the problem was the computer screen. On the screen, you can only see a little bit of your work at a time, and the rest of the project, whatever it may be, is hidden from view. When I was in grad school I ended up cutting up brown paper grocery bags (back before we all used cloth bags), taping them to the wall of my apartment, and using magic markers to make outlines and flow charts.

I spent several hours yesterday and today making a colorful timeline. I used sharpies in a rainbow of colors to keep track of the different “characters” in my book. In doing that I pulled out several other tools. I looked at a perpetual calendar on-line to double-check dates with days of the week. I used a calculator to review some of my metric to english conversions and ages of different people. I have a family tree at my fingertips with birth dates. I consulted items in my notebook of primary source documents in archival protective sleeves. I put my computer on “focus” view which allows me to have lots of windows open, but only one in view at any time without distractions. And of course – there is my trusty cup of coffee.

Sometimes writing is putting words on the page, but sometimes it is the organization of your thoughts. Sometimes you need to focus on minute details, and at other times you need to see the big picture. In writing creative non-fiction I am finding the need to constantly go back to the facts and keep them in the forefront of my brain as I get creative with dialogue and description. If the creativity gets too far from the facts, then I am not doing the story justice. If I don’t honor the story as it actually happened, then what’s the point?

One thought on “Writing Tools

  1. Lori says:

    Heidi–I am just realizing that I never read your dissertation! But obviously you made it through–and it sounds like this color coded system might work! I am anxious for you to finish because I can’t wait to read it! Keep plugging along, dear friend! Love to hear anything about your progress, and even the lack of progress! Thanks to your daughter for prodding you to talk about the process.

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