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~ Writing a Biography ~ STALKING THE ELEPHANTAbout Writing Biography and Imagining a Life

"THE BOTTLE DIGGERS," A POEM (NOT MINE) ABOUT LOOKING INTO LIVES

Dumpdiggers, by Rob Campbell
  Every so often something comes along to remind me that this blog is about more than just writing a biography. It's also about using what we know (not only from research but from life) to imagine other lives: lives that actually happened, lives that were part of history. To me, it's one of the most satisfying things about writing biography.

  The title poem of The Bottle Diggers, a new collection by the poet Andrea Fry, blew me away because it so perfectly evokes  Read More 
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HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO SAY, "I DO"? (TBC, JULY 2017)

  How long does it take a biographer to commit to a subject?

  At the April, 2017 meeting of the New York University Biography Seminar, four noted biographers talked about their current projects and how they came to them. Turns out that even for experienced biographers, the process of deciding on a subject can be long, circuitous, and complicated.

      About a decade ago, journalist and former book editor Amanda Vaill  Read More 
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BIOGRAPHERS EXPLORE POINTS OF VIEW: A Report by Deirdre David (TBC: April, 2016)

"Other Point of View," by Beryl Owl (Deviant Art)
   If you're writing a biography (or a memoir), or you're thinking about writing one, the following report by Deirdre David (Olivia Manning: A Woman at War) on the proceedings of the annual 2016 Leon Levy Conference on Biography may offer some food for thought.

   David's report appeared in the April, 2016 newsletter of the Biographers International Organization, which is dedicated to fostering the community of biographers worldwide. For more reports, click on "TBC reports" in the sidebar.  Read More 
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SHOULD WRITING BE FUN?

The other day I was thinking about what writers can learn from John Matteson's thirteen-year-old daughter when I remembered something Larry Niven once said.

   In case you have never been a closet science fiction fan, Niven, who is the author of Ringworld, is also one-half of the writing duo of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Their most famous collaboration is The Mote in God's Eye, but my favorite is Lucifer's Hammer, a novel about a comet that hits the earth and destroys Los Angeles (as well as the rest of civilization, but that's incidental).  Read More 
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JOHN MATTESON: CHOOSING A SUBJECT AND WHY WE WRITE

A couple of weeks ago I attended a terrific panel discussion by four extremely able biographers to hear them kick around one of my most favorite and least resolvable topics: "Is Biography True?"

    I've posted a report on the event here. Since there wasn't space to consider all the interesting and thought-provoking things that were said, Read More 
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BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE, SOME WRITING ADVICE TO MYSELF

I love this time of year. I've pretty much given up making New Year's resolutions, but late December is when I'm allowed by custom—no, obligated—to kick back and think about making a good start in 2013.

Of course, given the date of this post—December 21, 2012—thinking about next year could be a  Read More 
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CREATING A WRITING ROUTINE THAT WORKS

We often hear that one of the most important things when writing a book is to establish a regular writing routine. That's true whether you teach, spend your days in an office, or work at home. But for most of us, it's one of the hardest things to learn how to do.  Read More 
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THE WRITING LIFE: BIOGRAPHY AS RORSCHACH TEST

Rorschach Inkblot No. 9 (Wikipedia)
Usually on Sunday morning I open the New York Times and go straight to the Styles section, where the "Social IQs" column is. "Social IQs" gives advice to the socially perplexed, and reading it gives me hope of becoming the polite, perspicacious, socially intelligent human being I imagine its author, Philip Galanes, to be. Yesterday, however,  Read More 
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• WHEN SHOULD YOU BEGIN WRITING?

A spiral galaxy giving birth to stars (NASA)


          First-time biographers often assume they have to complete all their research before writing anything. But since the writing process itself always generates new ideas, a nonfiction writer can always find more research to do.

          Case in point: A long time ago,  Read More 
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      WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? Managing the Writing Life, 1: The Daily Grind

      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  Read More 
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