Writing biography or history
May 18, 2006 11:19 AM   Subscribe

How would I write a biography or history book?

The general idea seems like a fun one, but I'd have no idea where to start. First problem: picking a subject. Second problem: how do you do historical research into a person or topic? I have no idea how to begin something like this, even though I was a history major and have a law degree, both of which involved some research skills. It seems like a big undertaking, but it's something I'm curious about.
posted by Tin Man to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A Pocket Guide to Writing in History might be a good starting point. It's targeted at academics, but writing a biography or history book should be undertaken with an academic bent, I would think.
posted by stefnet at 12:24 PM on May 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

Become friends with your local librarians. You will rely on them. They can show you how to conduct research and give you tips on ways of finding things. They will get stuff from other libraries for you. Buy them lattes and chocolate and be sweet as pie to them.

Pick a topic you're passionate about. Most people take years to write their first book, especially if they are also working full-time. You don't want to get sick of it two years in.

Join your local (i.e. state or in your case maybe city) writers organization. They can help you a lot with practical advice on submission etiquette and access to workshops and the like. I don't know who that would be in NY, but another MeFite might. I have heard very good things about the New Hampshire Writers' Project, who are in Manchester NH, about 4 hours from you.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:54 PM on May 18, 2006

I've been interested in this for a while too. I had this idea of how to organise info around a particular subject through a multi-layered visual timeline.

My area of interest was around the start of the dotcom boom/fiasco, and I realised there were great stories that would only become evident from building up the necessary links and structure.

The method I came up with I called the biographer's tree. It basically shows events along a timeline in macro down to micro - so collecting at the highest level, significant world events and clustering them around dates, the lower levels showing more relevant micro events, closely related to my actual subject matter.

The whole point of this was to start a dialogue with my interviewees - significant macro events would enable/aid them to recall more personal stories, the subjects of which would start to form the micro-micro events on the dateline - thus reminding other interviewees of events in their lives around the same period.

Ultimately all these stories would then self propagate, be captured in an online database and basically write themselves - as new people were mentioned in people's recollections, they'd be invited to respond and add their sides of the story - their subjects would cluster around dates and continually grow the branches in the tree.

So far it's still just an idea for me (I'm not a biographer, and know little about the structure), but it seems like a logical way of approaching it.
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:26 PM on May 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas.
posted by Tin Man at 10:51 PM on May 18, 2006

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