If Lynn Palermo, The Armchair Genealogist and host of the Family History Writing Challenge, had been able to channel my thoughts over the last 27 days, she would have heard me say some bad words. She would also have heard some philosophical mutterings, along the lines of “What does not kill you makes you strong.”
Today I offer aloud and in public my final summation: Thank you. I never would have done this on my own. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. But it was a great experience and I learned (or remembered) a lot, both about blogging and writing in general and about my blogging and writing habits in particular.
1. Blogging every day and writing in private every day are two very different things. It’s important to decide which best serves your ultimate family history writing goal.
By committing myself to blog every day, I committed myself to public scrutiny. In some ways that feeds into my worst perfectionist writing habits. I don’t write first drafts but, rather, edit as I go along. I work hard to make my writing look easy. There is no way I am going to post something I am not reasonably happy with.
But daily deadlines are good for me. They can’t change my perfectionism but they force me to try to be perfect more quickly. And if you are going to write a book for the general public, as opposed to for your family or other more private audience, it’s good to think about both public scrutiny and meeting deadlines.
2. Realize that there may be different goals for your writing and that’s okay.
In my case, I want to write a book but I also want to grow an audience for it beforehand with a blog. So less than halfway through this writing challenge I realized that putting up posts without pictures would not serve one of my goals, that of publicizing my writing. What good is working hard on my sentences, if no one is inspired to read them? So I decided I needed to take the time to find and edit pictures for my posts.
Today, however, I’m providing information that doesn’t require illustration. I think. I may be deluding myself. You may have stopped reading by now because I didn’t put up any pictures. Oh well.
4. When you have conflicting writing goals, decide which is the most important.
I started out with a notion that I had to put up my posts the night before and schedule them for 3:30am because that would be better for blog traffic (I’m not sure if this is true or not). Posting the night before would therefore meet the goal of using this challenge to generate blog traffic, thus publicizing my book.
But I realized that I am much fresher for writing in the morning. So if I wrote most of a post the day before and worked on finishing it the following morning, the post would be better. Would anyone notice? Maybe not. But I would.
4. Figure out your writing strengths and allow yourself to go with them, at least some of the time.
Some topics may be easier for you to write about than others. Allow yourself to write about them rather than imposing on yourself an artificial idea of what you should write all the time.
For example, for this challenge, I decided to write about two members of my family, Ezriel and Viktor Kornmehl. I found the focus extremely useful and will try to incorporate the one-subject-at-a-time method when it comes to book research. But I find writing about personal topics, things that I have some passion about, far easier than trying to render research findings coherent. So when I realized that Feb. 22 would have been my mother’s 100th birthday, I allowed myself to write a personal post. It was a good break, a mini-mind vacation.
5. Be willing to be flexible and change in midstream, whether on short or long projects, in public or in private.
I mentioned before that I started putting up posts with pictures because that was a better way to meet one of my writing goals. Similarly, when I realized that my writing was better when I finished posts in the morning rather than struggling to post them the night before, for some elusive goal of generating more traffic, I made that shift too. It both cases, it was better to change mid-challenge than to be consistent for consistency’s sake (though that’s always a temptation if you are an editor as well a writer, as I am).
This piece was going to be titled 10 Takeaways from the Family History Writing Challenge. It was far easier to change the title than to struggle to find more examples because 10 seems like a better number. That’s really OCD. And I was really tempted.
6. Allow others to help if they’re willing.
Another of my temptations is to hole up and do everything entirely on my own. Isn’t writing a solitary pursuit? Well, yes, but research doesn’t have to be. And I’ve been extremely lucky in knowing two people, Jill Leibman Kornmehl and Lydia Davis, who are interested in family research in general and in researching my family in particular — and who are willing to share their findings with me. Thank you both. I literally couldn’t have done this without you.
7. Realize there are some things you can’t change and that’s okay too.
I can’t entirely change my basic habit of revising as I go along rather than writing a rough first draft. But why do I need to try if it works for me? Find your own truth, your own writing comfort zone. You may need to go outside of it sometimes and in some ways, but you also need to honor who you are as a writer, however annoying that person may sometimes be.
That’s if, folks. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey. I’ll continue to blog, of course, just not as often. I have other work to do and find, the kind that pays the bills. And — big news — I’m planning to write a book proposal. This challenge not only helped me find a better focus for it, but also gave me more confidence that I know my way around this topic and that I’ll know where to look for help when I don’t.
Thanks again, Lynn. You’ll channel no more bad words from me.