If you think writing a book is about sitting down before a keyboard and ‘just doing it’, I say, maybe.
It depends on how long you’ve been living with the subject.
Personally, I feel like I know Emmett and several key ‘characters’ in his story well. I would never presume to ‘speak’ for them, but, that is pretty much what I’m going to be doing in Emmett’s story. In doing so, I have to be careful: Here is where an accurate character analysis of the people in Emmett’s bio is important.
One writing management tool I use is to write a ‘character profile’ for each prominent individual. There are many different templates to use. I found one template that I liked on the Internet and Frankenformed it to suit my purposes.
Another thing I like to do is to transcribe the notes I’ve collected over the past 18 months. I do this every few months, not in one fell swoop. I have hundreds of pages of notes, as you can well imagine.
Ever since I started Emmett’s bio, I’ve kept a daily journal where I write down everything I do, from film or book requests from the library, to phone interview notes, to mini-essays on the events I’ve read about, to thoughts about how Emmett’s family members think and react to him, and so forth. Some days I have only one or two lines; other days have pages of information. It all depends on what I’ve done or found that day.
Typing the notes not only keeps my actual research progress on track, but my notes give me a good idea of where I’ve come in the process, and what holes exist in my data gathering.
When I look back over the research journal, it is what I’d call Frankenwriting: One day I’ll be working on Emmett’s childhood in Chipley, the next day could be exploring Emmett’s father’s medical training in Reconstruction-era Pensacola. I have to shift gears often in the research process.
I admit it can be distracting, switching the research focus from one time period or ‘character’ to another every other day, but that is the nature of information gathering. I will say that in doing this kind of research, you have to be comfortable with the idea that you don’t know what you’ll find from day-to-day — it can frustrating, but exhilarating and definitely not boring.
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