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

WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? Managing the Writing Life, 2: THE DIGITAL DIMENSION

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, in an article or just in a couple of sentences, on some useful solution they've found for coping with any 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 on Blogging

          Most publishers these days want authors to cultivate an online presence to attract readers (a "platform," in publishing jargon). Read More 
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      • AN ELEPHANT IS A MOVING TARGET

      (Credit: Hayward Public Library)

        For me, nothing about writing biography is more difficult than remembering that I'm tracking the long, slow evolution of a human being. (Two human beings, actually: in a sense, Erskine is as important to SARA AND ERSKINE as Sara herself; maybe more, in some ways.) Which means that the elephant  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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                ARTICLE POSTING: "FINDING OUR 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  Read More 
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                ROBERT CARO AND THE POWER OF PLACE

                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  Read More 
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                  THE POWER OF PLACE: ISTANBUL SHUTS OUT AMHERST

                  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.

                       &nbspWhen 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. Read More 
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                    ELEPHANT STALKERS ARE ORGANIZED, PART 2: Setting Up a Filing System

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

                      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 ( Read More 
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                        ELEPHANT STALKERS ARE ORGANIZED, PART ONE


                              I'm an avid member of Biographers International Organization, the acronym of which, amazingly enough, is BIO. Anyone with an interest in writing (or reading) biography, narrative nonfiction, or history should join BIO, though it's mostly for practicing long-distance elephant stalkers like me.

                              Last month I went down to  Read More 
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