Dona Munker: Writing a Biography

      ~ Writing a Biography ~
      About Writing Biography and Imagining a Life

    Managing the Writing Life, 1: The Daily Grind

    July 31, 2011

    Tags: Charles J. Shields, Good ideas, The writing life

    What's the best idea you've had for coping with a major challenge of the writing life?

      "WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?" invites experienced biographers and narrative nonfiction writers to hold forth, whether in an article or just a couple of sentences, on the most useful solution they've found for coping with one major challenge of the writing life. What works for you? Share it with the rest of us by posting a comment below.

        Charles J. Shields: "Chop Wood, Carry Water."

            A student seeking enlightenment asks the master, "How shall I go about it?"
            The master answers, "Chop wood, carry water."
            "And then when I achieve enlightenment—what then?"
            "Chop wood, carry water."

        I take this advice to mean that there's nothing but the work. I find I can't (more…)


        July 26, 2011

        Tags: "Finding Our Voice" (article download), Sattareh Farman Farmaian, Telling the story, Voice

        "Voice" is the instrument with which a writer tells the story. For a biographer, as for other writers of narrative, feeling confident that one has found "the right voice" is vital for having the authority and conviction necessary to narrate the life story of another human being.

            But voice is hard to define. It's not (more…)


        July 19, 2011

        Tags: Biographers International, Place, Robert Caro

        Robert Caro.

              Speaking of the power of place, no one knows more about that than Robert Caro, who appeared at the 2011 Compleat Biographer Conference luncheon to accept this year's BIO Award for his contributions to the art and craft of biography in his books on (more…)


          July 16, 2011

          Tags: Lyndall Gordon, Place

          Istanbul at sunset. (Photo: qmannola)

                It's never smart for anyone working on a biography to underestimate the power of place. Especially when the writer is reading someone else's work.

                When I went on vacation two weeks ago, I brought along Lives Like Loaded Guns, the biography of Emily Dickinson by Lyndall Gordon, to read on the transatlantic leg of a trip to Istanbul. (more…)

            ELEPHANT STALKERS ARE ORGANIZED, PART 2: Setting Up a Filing System

            July 2, 2011

            Tags: Research

            From orderly tablets, serenity—my desk before I went on vacation.

                Since a number of people who attended the Compleat Biographer Conference in May requested it afterwards, in this post I'll cover the glamorous subject of filing—that is, physically organizing your research. Every project is different. Still, any good filing system will do (more…)

              WHAT I'M READING NOW: Lyndall Gordon's "Lives Like Loaded Guns"

              July 1, 2011

              Tags: Lyndall Gordon

              Emily Dickinson (Amherst College Library)

                    Just as my husband and I are about to go on vacation--a trip to Istanbul in honor of a Big Birthday--I've become caught up in Lyndall Gordon's Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds. My justification is that Sara Bard Field, who belonged to the generation after Dickinson ( (more…)

                    The disciple of a famous sculptor came upon his master carving an elephant from a huge, shapeless chunk of stone. "Master," cried the disciple, "What splendor! What realism! What insight! How do you do it?" "Simple," replied the sculptor. "You just cut away everything that isn't elephant."

                    Stalking the Elephant is a blog about creating an elephant from a chunk of stone, a.k.a. writing a biography.

                    It's also about the biographer's writing life (well, mine, anyway) and a work in progress, SARA AND ERSKINE, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE. This is an intimate reconstruction of the life of SARA BARD FIELD, a World War One-era minister's wife, suffragist, and poet, and her extraordinary affair with an outspoken attorney, philosophical anarchist, and Renaissance man CHARLES ERSKINE SCOTT WOOD.

                Subscribing is easy.

                    This couple takes up a lot of time (not to mention a lot of oxygen), and since I don't have a regular posting schedule, the best way to receive updates is to sign up to be notified when I post something new.

                     Here's how: On the blog page, click on the RSS button of your browser. (In Firefox: Go to the Bookmarks menu and select "Subscribe to This Page.") You can then check to see if there's been an update in the RSS feed of your browser's toolbar.

                Visit the RESOURCES page and take advantage of a growing list of links, blogs, and books for anyone interested in biography and writing lives.

                  Sidebar Photo Credit: Elephant Country Web

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