My genealogy dabbling began a few years ago and has lead me to a fascination with the back stories of my ancestors’ lives. As time allows I search for records and newspaper stories that give detailed accounts of individual experiences of their time and places.
I am writing a piece of fiction based on the story of my convict ancestor (Mary Ann Hughes) through the eyes of her grand-daughter (another Mary Ann) whose husband became the Mayor of Balmain. This morning, I grabbed some markers and a large sheet of paper and began to play with a series of time lines on the same page. It was a useful exercise up to a point but I was after more flexibility.
So the large piece of paper has now become long strips of paper (6-10 cm wide). The top strip is time itself. The visual below uses decades though the scale could be larger or smaller as appropriate to your needs. Other strips (eg individual life lines, local history events) need to be scaled to match the top template and the level of content required eg births, marriages, immigration, residences.
They will be reasonably easy to store (the paper rolls up nicely) and will enable me to mix and match the relationship timelines for different angles on the story eg siblings together, comparing the story of various grandparents etc.
I’ve mocked up a static visual to give you an idea of how it might look on a large table and/or wall. The possibilities are, as always, only limited by imagination. Story timelines based on genealogy are just one application. You could have fun with future gazing or comparing the emergence of historical discoveries or inventions.
One of my highest held ambitions has been to write a book. It’s been a struggle and I think I’ve finally figured out why. It’s the wrong objective. It hasn’t held me in good stead at all. In fact, it’s helped me to develop some effective avoidance measures and sharpened some already existing ones.
I have a magnificent procrastination gene. Especially when it comes to starting something that scares me. It manifests itself in self-talk that can go any of the following ways. “I need to do more research”. “I want to rethink the way I’ll structure the narrative”. “That idea won’t work. Let’s spend time thinking about another one”. “What if it’s rubbish and I’ve been fooling myself”. And so on.
This blog has been a gentle lead in to the discipline and structure that my particular versions of procrastination and fear need to kick them out of the picture. Thanks to those who visit this site and those who’ve taken the time to comment, I’m building up a bank of courage. Other inspirations come from those writers on Twitter who every day share a piece of themselves – their success, their deadline stories, their application of different processes all demonstrating a delicate balance of structure and creativity.
My three words for 2010 as they apply to my writing are: discipline, courage and joy. I have two writing projects simmering as they have been for some years. This year I am bringing them to the boil by throwing the word linear out the window and starting anywhere I feel like. I’ve begun by writing a series of vignettes for one of the projects (a memoir for my daughters to capture stories that don’t often get shared in day to day conversation).
Now here’s the discipline part. I’m raising the bar – not so high as to terrify and not too low as to fall into old habits. Every day two hours and 2000 words. Never mind the quality as they say. I’m using a trick I heard one writer talk about recently on ABC Radio. A tea towel over the screen designed to confuse the inner critic enough that she’ll go away and find someone else’s shoulder to peer over.
Olivia Mitchell at Speaking About Presenting is debunking the myth of Mehrabian’s formula on how a message is communicated
Shawn Callahan at Anecdote asks why don’t positive stories carry?
Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney
I confess. I enjoy a bit of genealogy on the side. It’s the sort of thing you don’t mention in polite company or at a party unless you want to be parked alone with the other “I prefer anti-social activities too” person.
The addiction (there I’ve said it) all started when I wanted to know some more about my paternal grandparents. At first, it was only a search engine on a births, deaths and marriages database.
Before I knew it, I found there were people who could supply me with the stuff – photos, certificates, links to parish records, the location of graveyards and headstones! Then the highs got higher. Padded envelopes began to arrive in the mailbox. Late at night I’d fall upon some quality hits after hours of wading through non-descript material. Days were lost in the Mitchell Library.
The sources lead to newspaper reports and obituaries, juicy postings of adultery, shipping voyages and military service records, crimes and convicts, and accounts of lives shortened by misadventure and laborious work in coal mines and cotton mills.
What hooks me is the stories. It’s like putting together pieces of a puzzle that help explain why you are who you are today because of the lives they lived.
I’m not interested in rehabilitation. These stories will be written and the prospect of sharing the highs with others in my gene pool is, well, addictive.
Here are some gems I’m reading this week.
Shawn Callahan on the vital role of business storytelling
Nancy Dixon’s Knowledge Management blog
Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney