Devon Noel Lee
Writer’s Block is Not Real in Family History
May new family history writers complain that they have writer's block. They do not know what to write, so their genealogy books remain unpublished. Let's set aside the myth of writer's block and show you how to get your family history book written.
Writer's Block Isn't Real, Especially for Family Historians
My favorite writing advice from YouTuber Alexa Donne said, "Writer's block is an illusion. Writer's Block doesn't exist. It's an excuse for not writing."
I couldn't agree more!
But I thought I experienced writer's block when I first attempted to write about my ancestors. The biggest hurdle was the lack of real knowledge about my ancestors.
Then I discovered a few tips that I'll share in a moment. But the point is, once I knew what to do, I soon realized that no family historian should ever say they have writer's block.
"But I lack writing inspiration!"
I've said this myself. Another variation of this sentence is, "I lack motivation." Once again, Alexa Donne set me straight.
"You can't always write when you're inspired. Inspiration is for people who don't finish books."
Writing a family history book or story must become a habit, just as crafting genealogy source citations.
After you find some discoveries about an ancestor, force yourself to write a short story or biography, similar to the 600-word stories I wrote about here.
Make yourself write even if you do not feel like it's good enough.
Write even if you don't feel you have enough supporting documents yet.
Push through the "writer's block," and you'll soon realize that you have many more stories ready for editing and publication.
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How to Overcome Family History Writer's Block
Here are a few tips to help you stop staring at a blank screen that should be a family history story.
First, conduct a Reasonable Amount of Research. Many writing class or workshop attendees have said, "I want to write about my Revolutionary War ancestor" or "I want to write about my great-grandfather, the cattle thief." However, those who actually achieve their goal have conducted some research into the lives of these ancestors rather than have a wish to write a book. If you have searched census, city directory, land, probate, tax, newspapers, and books about your ancestor, you could be prepared to write about them.
Create an Ancestor's Timeline - I've written 60 scrapbooks, 1 memoir, 2 published family histories, 120 family history biographical sketches, 7 how-to books, over 600 blog posts, 600 video scripts, and six years of articles for a pageant news service. Yet, the one thing that ALWAYS speeds up my writing is an outline. For our ancestors, the best outline is a timeline of their life. Thankfully, RootsMagic, Ancestry, and FamilySearch generate timelines for us automatically when we add facts to an ancestor's profile.
Turn One Document Into a "Story" at a time - Experienced genealogists advocate transcribing the documents you find about your ancestors. I concur and want you to transform that transcription into a readable story.
Repeat for All Ancestor's Documents - Record by record, write a 'story' about your ancestor based on that document. Soon, you won't have writer's block but rather many paragraphs or pages of content to tell a larger story.
I promise that the record-by-record paragraph writing approach will end your writer's block immediately. However, if you are stuck transforming that information into an engaging story, you have two options.
You can learn how to stop writing boring family histories.
You can hire a professional to finish your book.
If at any time you would like the assistance of an experienced genealogy author, check out our friends over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. and tell them Devon Noel Lee referred you.
For more writing tips, check out these posts: