Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why (Certain) Stuff Is Good

Ahh, the life of a historian.

An incredibly small sampling of my stuff.
When I was working on my thesis in graduate school, I visited the Fort Robinson museum to look at the files. The curator had already done an extensive amount of research, and basically, all I had to do was make copies of the documents I needed. I made lots and lots and lots of copies. If I saw something of interest, even if I didn't know if I'd actually use it, I certainly couldn't leave it behind.

As the curator said that day, "Historians like lots and lots of stuff. Whoever has the most stuff, wins."

Or has an office full to exploding with books and papers and file cabinets!

As a historian and writer, I get double the pleasure, double the paperwork. I've got books stacked away in nooks and corners because I just might need it someday. I have information scribbled on little scraps of paper. I gobble up websites and online archives like a starving man on Thanksgiving.

I like to have lots of stuff, I guess. But when you have all that stuff, there comes a time you have to dig through it and find the gold - i.e. the information you'll actually use.

I have a lot of projects going on right now, which makes me happy not only because I'm busy, but because I'm researching and accumulating a bunch of, well, stuff! Books, old magazine articles, newspaper articles, and online archives have been my best friends lately. And thank goodness for interlibrary loan! I'd be lost without it.

As writers, we have to do our research, some of us more than others. But as a historian and a writer of historical fiction, I have to do a lot of research. That's ok. I enjoy it, though sometimes I have to tear myself away from it just to write.

Are you like me? Do you like to get lots of stuff for your writing projects?


  1. My fiction is not historical, but I still like to research throughout the writing process. Character traits, places, behaviors, jobs, any small detail. I like the reality that research brings to fiction, giving it an authenticity.

  2. I'm keeping more and more virtual files for reference. I'm a history/research junkie too!

  3. Oh, my..... You're describing me! "As a historian and writer, I get double the pleasure, double the paperwork. I've got books stacked away in nooks and corners because I just might need it someday. I have information scribbled on little scraps of paper. I gobble up websites and online archives like a starving man on Thanksgiving."

    It's nice to know I'm not the only one, but sometimes I worry about my sanity. I hope God lets me know at least a little ahead of time when I'm going to die because I can't imagine my kids having to go through all my "stuff."

    Thanks for the smiles today.


  4. I don't write historical fiction but I still seem to do lots of research and accumulate huge amounts of, well, yes, stuff. :)

  5. Joanne - I think it's incredibly important to research no matter what you write. Those details can make or break your story!

    Jill - Oh, virtual files...I have a ton of those, too!

    Linda - I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but Blogger was giving me all sorts of hissy fits. Shall try again later...and it's great to find another person who is a like-minded packrat! ;-)

    Shirley - Sometimes, I look at all my "stuff" and wonder if I'll ever use it all. But then there comes a time when I need something and it's so nice to have it right there. A time and a place for everything, I suppose. ;-)

  6. Melissa, I'm sorry you couldn't leave a comment on my blog. Blogger has been giving a lot of people problems with comments lately. Finally I fixed it, at least I am now able to leave comments, but with your news now I wonder if others are unable to leave comments no my blog too.

    Here's how I fixed it, at someone's recommendation:

    When I sign into my Google account with my e-mail address and password (or is it called User ID?), I UNchecked the box that says something like "Keep me logged in" or "signed in," or however it's worded. The person who recommended that said, "and don't check on that box again to stay signed in."

    I tried it and ever since then, I've been able to leave comments on others' blogs.

    Perhaps this info will help others. Sorry, Melissa, that you couldn't leave a comment.

    I'm still smiling about your blog post today! :)


  7. I am just discovering how much research a historical novel is (and I need a file cabinet and bookshelf dedicated just to research) I love it though! But I was absolutely floored when I read how much research Hillenbrand did for Seabiscuit (and I assume for Unbroken, too). I would love to the personal interviews like she did! Sounds like we are both two researchers & writers at heart.

  8. I've begun to enjoy research more though I still dread it just a bit.

  9. Linda - I will try it! Thanks!

    Margo - Have you read Unbroken? Oh boy...definitely worth a read! What makes the research she did even more amazing is that she is virtually house-bound - it was all done via her computer or by contacting people on the phone and having them send files to her. Now that's dedication!

    Travis - I admit, there are times when I look at the amount of research I need to do and feel overwhelmed. But chipping away at it a little at a time is the best thing to do.

  10. I have half a bookcase and an entire Army footlocker stuffed to the gills with research materials. I'm not currently writing historical fiction, and yet I can't bear to part with any of it. What if I need it again and don't have it? The horror! :)

    Love, love, love my research. And the stuff. "Whoever has the most stuff wins..." Totally true!

  11. I love my stuff, including all of my old photos and other vintage what- nots that often inspire me to do research in my quest to try to get a feeling for the decades I missed. I'm like you Melissa-I'll never get tired of learning about the past:)

  12. Christine - I have a feeling you'll be writing another historical someday. And yes, you'll need some of your stuff! ;-)

    Valerie - Ooh, yes. Stuff can be more than just books and files and research...it can be all those wonderful old items we put around our homes, too. And I have plenty of that! ;-)


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