Cumann Seandalaiochta agus Staire Phort Lairge

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Young Historian's Notebook : 5. Writing History

5. ‘Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know’

 Writing can be one of the most solitary pursuits in the world.
If I was to liken it to a sport it probably would be golf. Arnold Palmer said that "Golf is a game of inches. The most important are the six inches between your ears." The same can be said of writing regardless of whether you have to write 500 words or 5,000, a lot is based on how your mind works. 

     For writing history, one of the most important exercises is research. Research is the training for writing like you would practice drills for golf. Practice doesn’t always make perfect but it certainly helps. Research skills are something that can be developed over time and this is particularly relevant when the way we can access information is continually changing. Take for example local newspapers, before you would have to go to your local library and go through the arduous task of exploring microfilm. Now with Irish Newspaper Archives with a few search terms we can find something that may have taken months in a lot faster time. However, rather than viewing this as making research simpler we should see it as allowing us more time to look at other resources. The more information we have, allows us to write with more authority while leading us to more material to distil into an interesting story. 

When you feel you have enough information gathered
then is a good time to start writing up your research. Some people like to write as they’re researching so it is whichever suits you best. What works for one person mightn’t work for someone else. A lot of people would say write what you know about but I like to find out things that I don’t know anything at all about. Such an idea is promoted by the Irish novelist Colum McCann who states that ‘Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.’ I think the great historians be it political, social, military, etc spheres are curious individuals. They are people that thrive for knowledge and understanding. They allow their research to dictate rather than manipulate a story. 

      Some of the subjects that have interested me included Nigerian medical students playing soccer for UCD; a Pakistani squash player who wanted to play for Ireland and a prize-winning daffodil grower living in Kilcohan. I can’t say I had any firm footing in knowing anything about UCD, squash or horticulture but my thirst for learning more helped form the pieces I wrote. Let your curiosity guide your writing. Your research will help piece the story together. One’s enthusiasm will put it across. The latter trait is infectious, when you see someone enjoying themselves or displaying their love of something; you’re caught up in their affection for their subject. 

     You’ve probably noticed that this piece on writing history has more to do with research and preparation than the actual act of writing itself. The reason for this is; there is no advice I can give because everyone is different. Practice is very important and is beneficial to learn your likes and dislikes. 

The best thing to do is to start, once you do that you’ll probably never stop. 

To be continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society, Ireland.
Website By: Deise Design