Thursday, January 13, 2011

This brain is offline...

... because I am busy stuffing it full of 19th-century American history. I might have said that this year I'm devoting my professional writing to an entire book, not just a series of essays. You may wonder, how different is it to write a whole book from writing a 3000-word essay? When you're writing nonfiction, it's really not that different, and I can break it down into four simple* steps:

  1. Research your subject. This means read, read, read, read. 
  2. Take good notes. While you read, highlight significant facts and especially quotes that you might like to reproduce in your piece. A juicy quote from a subject can liven up a piece, or give your argument more weight.
  3. Make an outline. This starts by reviewing your notes (or in the case of smaller pieces, re-reading your research). Certain important points will usually jump out at you, either because they're repeated frequently or they're interesting. When outlining, start broadly and then get more specific.
  4. Write it together. Once you've got an outline, you can fill it in with those interesting facts and quotes, connecting them all with good transitions and observations. Before you know it, you have a finished essay, or even a finished book! 

Of course, writing a book means each step is more intensive and takes longer, and the outlining step is crucial to keep you organized. Right now, however, I'm on step one: READ READ READ READ. I have a stack of history books over a foot high, and I've only gotten through about 3.5 inches of them. So I have little more for anything else in my head; the hamsters are racing on their wheels as fast as they can, chasing facts about robber barons and greenbacks and the Grange and strikes and all sorts of fun stuff. They would have to slow down to create something for this blog, so you may not see much from me for a while ... although I am still slogging away at the Printz books, and they just announced this year's winners, so I'll get a few more of those in this winter. In the meantime, you can look at the pretty pictures every week.

*simple to describe, not necessarily to do...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Photo of the Week--1/10/11

I know my theme this go-round was "interesting architecture," so why am I including this picture of a snow field? Well, if you look closely along the horizon of the snow, you'll see some glowing runway lights: this is not just a snow field, it's an airport runway! When we took our little jaunt up to the Arctic Circle at Christmas 1999, this was where we landed in Ivalo, Finland. The terminal was a small, stone building with two gates, and the runways were really snowways. Now, that's how to make your architecture fit in with the landscape!