My writing process varies depending on the type of writing I'm doing. This past summer, I was doing primarily academic/museum writing. I'm on the history committee for the Fullerton College Centennial, which means I've been writing text panels for a "history of Fullerton College" exhibit next year. Here's how my process goes for that...
I always begin by reading. The thing with writing history is you cannot "bullshit" your reader. You have to know your facts. So I spent the summer hanging out in local libraries reading books about local history and larger historical topics related to the college, like the citrus (orange) industry, the railroad, labor issues, and wars. I also read a lot of interviews conducted by the Fullerton College and Cal State Fullerton Oral History programs.
I read carefully, pen in hand, marking important passages, making annotations in the margins. Because I have enormous fines at every local library and I am poor, I cannot check out books. So what I do is photocopy pages and take them home. Sometimes I copy whole books. I'm sure this violates some copyright law, but it's for academic purposes, so it's okay. Over the past months, I have accumulated a rather large collection of photocopied books and articles. You might ask: Why don't you save the money you spend on copies and just pay your library fines? I don't know. I'm weird.
When I finish reading and annotating longer works like books or dissertations, I then type up all the important passages into one document. Sometimes I post this on my blog. Then I take that collection of passages, put it into my own words, throw in some punchy quotes, and combine it with other research/writing I've done on that topic.
Writing for the history exhibit has been a fun exercise in conciseness. I must distill large amounts of information into small info-packed "text panels" which will go on the exhibit walls. When I'm finished with a panel, I'll e-mail it to the exhibit coordinators. This is the scary part. It's scary to share something I've put so much time and effort into. What if they don't like it? What if it's not what they want?
Because my writing tends to focus on controversy and human struggle, the response has been mixed.
Writing about history is a new endeavor for me, and one I enjoy tremendously. I like finding stories people might not know about the place they live, and sharing them. The first book I ever wrote was a highly personal memoir. My second book, the one I'm currently working on, is a community history book, a history of Fullerton. There are some personal parts, because I grew up in Fullerton, but the focus is larger, I hope.
|Some of my photocopied books and articles about local history.|