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


One of the occupational hazards of writing biography is that you may develop an intense preoccupation with—well, with filing.

This is a sort of dirty professional secret akin to wanting to know about the inner workings of mechanical clocks. All any normal person who isn't a clockmaker really wants to know is what time it is.

Nevertheless, the happiness or at least the sanity of the biographer, who has been described as "a novelist on oath," depends on being able to deal with research findings quickly, expeditiously, and with the least possible amount of trouble. This is true whether we're storing something after a laborious day in the archives or looking it up six months later. It's even more true when a writer has to stop dead in her tracks in the middle of a paragraph to consult her research. For someone immersed in the writing process, a good storage-and-retrieval system can make the difference between exhilaration and exhaustion.

Next week, I'll begin talking about my own files and how they work. I'll start with how I organize my primary research files for SARA AND ERSKINE and go on from there.

One more thing: in a post last year giving tips for setting up a filing system, I point out that a good filing system is disciplined but also flexible, adapted to the needs of the particular biographer and the particular subject.

So keep in mind that although the way I do things undoubtedly has a lot in common with how every other biographer and nonfiction writer does them, my system is tailored to my specific needs, which aren't necessarily the same as yours. Feel free, therefore, to adapt, redesign, and reject as needed. And if you have a better idea, or a question, or a criticism, I'd love to hear from you, because I'll learn something and so will others. More soon.

Click here to see all my posts on organizing your research.

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