September 16, 2011

Follow Friday: The Accidental Genealogist

Is it really possible to write a family history book in only 15 minutes a day? According to Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist, the answer is absolutely—as long as you do something on your project every single day.

I attended Lisa’s lecture, “Write Your Family History Step-by-Step,” on the last day of the FGS Conference in Springfield, and came away inspired and invigorated. Lisa advocated blocking time for writing on your calendar, setting a timer for as little as 15 minutes, and doing something—taking notes, organizing, or writing even a few sentences—every day, like clockwork. She also suggested breaking the book into two sections—a readable narrative and a reference section containing genealogical summaries and sources.

Here are some of the other points I took away from the session:
  • Make a timeline or outline to serve as a framework for the story
  • Reel the reader in with an exciting event or conflict
  • Leave something hanging at the end of every chapter
  • Study the history of your time and place
  • Milk all the details out of your documents and photographs
  • Capture emotion and feelings in your oral interviews
  • Use writing techniques like flashback, character detail, suspense, etc.
  • Don’t wait until you feel like you’re “done” with your research to start

Lisa provided several websites and resources that she’s found helpful in the writing process. She also referred us to her blog, The Accidental Genealogist, for samples. If you click on “Publications,” then “Other Writings,” you can see a transcript of one of her interviews and a writing sample from her book, Three Slovak Women. Her tips and techniques are applicable whether your goal is a personal memoir, a family-only publication, or a more universal story for a larger audience. Lisa’s lecture should be available as a CD-Rom or MP3 file (your choice) from Fleetwood Onsite soon.

Lisa’s session gave me a boost to get started on a writing project I’ve been putting off because it just seemed too overwhelming. By breaking it down into smaller parts and chipping away at it a little at a time, using some of her strategies, I hope to make it seem more manageable. Now I don’t have any excuse not to get started!

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  1. Great write up! This is one course I hope I can catch another time.

  2. Hi Shelly - yep, great minds ;-) So, have you started writing each day? Lisa's session really was great and I've thought about ordering it so I can listen again when I need more inspiration.

  3. Thanks, Susan! You would have enjoyed it. There were just so many choices and not enough time to do everything!

  4. Diana, no, I haven't started yet--one of the reasons I wrote this is to make myself commit to actually doing it. I enjoyed reading what you're writing and how you're approaching it. I can use all the inspiration I can get!


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