Monday, August 4, 2014

Behind the Scenes - A Writing Life

I am pleased that Wendy of Jollette Etc. invited me to take part in A Writing Life blog hop, created by Ellen Barone.  Thank you, Wendy.

The invitation prompted some questions:  Am I really a writer?  What makes a person a writer?  Is a writer someone whose occupation or profession is writing books and articles and is, therefore, known as an author or journalist?  Is a writer any person who puts pen to paper (or fingers to keypad) and writes words, sentences, paragraphs?  Or can anyone who loves to write be called a writer? 

To be honest, I'm thrilled to imagine that I'm a writer because I love the writing process (however primitive and humble the results).  I love using words to tell a story or create an image.  I love all parts of the process, from initial idea to typing, from editing to pressing the publish button.  I often stumble, hesitate, reconsider, and return, but for me it's all part of the process I love. 

There are four questions Ellen Barone proposed to participants. 

What am I writing or working on?
Most of my focus and energy are devoted to researching and writing about my ancestors, the results of which appear here.  I write about my research process; brief biographies or overviews of the lives of ancestors; my perceptions about what their lives may have been like; and other miscellaneous posts related to family history.  I sometimes offer tips, write “musings” posts, and this year I've included posts from the Book of Me meme created by Julie Goucher of Anglers Rest.  Other topics occasionally creep in but nearly all are related in some way to my ancestors and/or family history in general.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don't think I'm particularly creative or imaginative or that my writing is so distinctive that a reader would be able to attribute it to me.   In many ways I think my writing style is "generic" and common.  The only real difference between my writing and that of others is that I’m writing about my own ancestors. 

Why do I write what I do?
My choice of writing topics comes down to love of my ancestors.  I love searching for them, learning about them, and sharing their stories.  Past writing experiences include course assignments, letters, short and long journal entries, and detailed newsletter articles.  Writing about my ancestors is the most enjoyable writing I’ve done. 
How does my writing process work?
My husband thinks I’m a natural writer and that the process is effortless.  He’s oh-so-wrong!  For me, some kinds of writing take less effort and concentration than others.  For example, writing letters years ago to our parents about the antics and activities of their grandchildren was almost effortless:  brief, anecdotal paragraphs about real events don’t take much time or thought.  When I turn my attention to writing about the research process, the results of research, or biographical posts about ancestors, it’s more of a challenge (albeit satisfying and fulfilling) than a natural, easy process.

Blog posts come about in a variety of ways.  All are dependent on how inspiration hits, the subject matter at hand, the time available, and the intent of the post.
  • Sometimes an idea comes and I sit and type like crazy.  These are often spur-of-the-moment posts focused on a memory, a musing, a photograph, a brief anecdote in the life of an ancestor, or, occasionally, a comparison between modern and how an ancestor may have achieved the same outcome.
  • Other times an idea will strike when I'm not near a computer and can't type or write.  If the idea is strong enough and I have time at that moment to think about it, I may plan out what I want to say and the points I want to include, down to opening and closing thoughts.  Some of the details may be gone by the time I am finally able to sit and type but I'm usually able to recreate my thoughts in these situations.
  • There are times when the briefest thread of a thought will waft through my mind.  If I have no time to think about it I try to jot a note somewhere to jog my memory when I am finally able to get to a computer to write.
  • Longer and more detailed posts often evolve over time.  I may do some research and save links or photos to a draft.  I type my thoughts as far as they go, make notes about the next possible thoughts I may want to include (or make a brief outline), then save the draft and move on to something else while the topic for the post remains in the back of my mind as I go about other things.  Ideas will evolve mentally until there is clarity about content and I have time to write and finish the post.

I usually have a dozen or more drafts in progress at one time.  One may be just a few words as a reminder; or a photograph; others may include several points awaiting further research, further thought, or time to write.

I am a speedy typist but a slow writer.  I usually rewrite and edit as I type.  I finish a few paragraphs, review them, then I edit for clarity and grammar.  Before I continue I stop to consider how I want to phrase the next ideas or thoughts and decide how they will continue or expand the ideas I've already written.  When I think I'm finished I go back to the beginning and reread for continuity and clarity, rewriting and/or editing once (or twice, or thrice) again.  It could take an hour or more to write a five-paragraph post.  (It seems to be a truth that introverts think slowly.)  Often I will let a "finished" post sit overnight or longer and then reread and re-edit it.  During that interim my mind will mull over what I've written, adding and subtracting thoughts until the post is whole and complete.

My one absolute need to be able to write is uninterrupted, quiet time.  I turn my back on everything and concentrate until I can get the thoughts into words and the words into the computer.  Interruptions slow me considerably:  after each I need to reread what I've written to pick up the thought process where I left off and call to mind what I was going to write next.  (Thinking about it, maybe that's why five paragraphs take an hour to write.)  I think this need is why I've become such a late-night owl:  no one else is awake and the house is quiet.

Participating in this blog hop has been an interesting exercise.  I've always just written without thinking about the process.  Having given it thought, perhaps I can improve the way I write and, thereby, the results, too.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

As I noted earlier, A Writing Life blog hop was created by Ellen Barone who invited several other writers to participate who, in turn, invited more writers to participate.  You can view Wendy's post, Writer's Blog Hop, to learn who invited her to take part and then follow a backward trail from post to post.  Going forward, I've invited Shelley Bishop to join the fun.

Shelley Bishop enjoys discovering and writing about the stories of her ancestors’ lives.  Her interest in genealogy, which started with her grandmothers, grew into a passion over the years.  She has completed numerous study programs and institute courses, and feels fortunate to have found many generous mentors in the field.  Her business, Buckeye Family Trees (, specializes in researching Ohio ancestors.

Shelley shares her personal genealogy discoveries as well as tips, resources, and experiences on her blog, A Sense of Family (  She appreciates the connection with readers that blogging offers.  She is a frequent contributor to Family Tree Magazine, Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly, and Ohio Genealogy News.

Shelley and her husband live in Columbus, Ohio, and have three children.  When she can tear herself away from family history, she enjoys reading, traveling, and relaxing with friends and family.

Thanks for stopping by to read.


Copyright © 2014 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Nancy, You are really a writer, indeed! I enjoy your blog very much! And I enjoy Shelley's too!

    1. Thank you, Dorene. I appreciate your encouragement.

  2. Your writing process sounds a lot like mine. Some topics write themselves; others come out kicking and screaming. It's good to just write something and then go back and fix it. Thanks for participating!

    1. Thanks for inviting me to participate, Wendy. I appreciate it.

      I agree: just write something and eventually it will all come together.

  3. Nancy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thank you, Jana. It's hard to imagine that readers would be interested in my writing process, but who knows! I hope you have a good weekend. Take care.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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