Sunday, August 05, 2007

Writing Biography

Writing a biography is a lot harder than I expected it to be.

It's not as if I thought it was going to be easy -- It's that it's much more difficult than I could have imagined. (And I have an excellent imagination!)

It's not the research process. That's been a daunting but ultimately enjoyable treasure hunt. I mean, before I could photocopy the thousands of pages of his official correspondence and read through scores of transactions and scholarly papers authored by him and his contemporaries at the turn of the last century here and abroad, I had to locate and gain access to those materials. Ditto for the books on naval history and maritime policy I've read to better understand the attitudes of his time. I'm a bit more familiar with the resistance of ships and cavitation studies than I'd anticipated, but I feel confident I have the background I need to write about my subject.

As an adult...

The thing that nags at me is that even after nearly a full year of research, I still don't know if he was the kind of kid who loved to read or the kind of kid who spent his days outside tossing stones into a creek. I still don't know if leaving for college at fourteen was difficult for him or something he couldn't wait to do.

I need to know because I want to bring that kid to life on the page...

Worst case, I can read the histories of his county and write about what life was like after the War in what had been the largest grain growing region of the Confederacy. I can create a sense of his larger environment but that just feels so inadequate.

I thought the writing would be the hard part. The trying to take the facts of a person's life and combine them into someone compelling enough to engage another person.

Turns out that's a cinch compared to uncovering just the right piece of information.

1 comment:

Arlene said...

Great work.