Write your book when your research is finished.
Dr. John McManus, assistant professor of U.S. military history at Missouri S&T, shared an easy method for determining when to begin writing during his presentation at the Missouri Writer's Guild. It's a question he asks writers, and one that writers need to ask themselves: "How do you know what themes will be developed from a scholarly POV (or any other POV) if you aren’t finished (researching)?"
He said it’s hard to juggle all the research and writing at the same time. He believes the work is more distracted and doesn't provide the same coherence when writers try to research and write at the same time. The finished product is better when the research is complete before the writing begins.
Next question - How will you write it?
If there were only one way to write a book or article, then writing would be easy. But there are many ways, and McManus covered several points to consider as you begin.
- First, figure out your writing times. Do you have to work a 12-hour day and squeeze it in? If so, figure out time to work and stick to it like it’s a job. "All good writers are self starters, and all good historians are self starters" he said.
- Next, consider the point of view (POV). Writing from a distance, as an observer, provides readers with the big picture of an event, while writing from the POV of someone close to, or in the middle of, the action can bring a human perspective to that event. When we see everything through one person's eyes, we can relate to the actions and feel the emotions.
- Develop a chapter-by-chapter outline – it forces you to think and bring coherence to what relates and what doesn’t, forces you to make hard decisions about what to cut and what to keep. Also consider how your book will look. This outline forces unity and coherence. Each chapter that follows makes your point. By the time you’ve done the proper research, you should have these ideas. Outlines help.
- Organize material chronologically. Most good history is written chronologically. There are some exceptions in biography and other types of nonfiction.
- Consider pacing, context, and sequencing to figure out how best to tell your story. How will the reader want to read this story, what will work best for him or her? If you are talking about the evening before, don’t give it away. Let the story unfold.
- Determine the format. What is tone? How will you refer to people - formally or informally? Will you use official titles like The Duke of So and So, or first names? Make these decisions beforehand for consistency, and you won't need to go back and change them later.
And finally, after writing your book or article:
- Proofread after giving yourself a little time and distance so you can look at the writing with fresh eyes.
Write soon, and let me know about YOUR process,
(Next week, a little more on organizing your writing)