Following on from an earlier post Local history writer – how to get started with your research, here are some tips on how you can get started writing local history.
When to start writing local history
Whatever you are planning to write (a full-length book, a single article or a series of articles), don’t wait until you have finished your research before you start writing. No research is ever complete so get scribbling sooner rather than later.
Know your audience
The amount of detail you include and the style of your writing is determined by your readership. So, make sure you know who your readers are before you start.
From all of the material you have accumulated during your research, choose what you want to use and put the irrelevant stuff on one side. When you have collected everything you want to work with, organise it into some semblance of order so as you can refer to it quickly and easily when you start writing. It can be very frustrating if you have to spend time searching for documents, pictures, maps etc. when you are trying to concentrate on writing local history.
Check your sources and references
If you haven’t kept a list of all your sources and references while doing your research, now is the time to do it. It is much harder to remember these details further down the line. Also, make sure that you have permission to reproduce any material that is affected by copyright,
Make a plan before you start
If you plan to submit your idea for a book to a publisher you will have to prepare a detailed synopsis. However, it is also a good idea to create a synopsis for your own benefit when writing local history. You can simply list the main topics you plan to cover or you can break it down further into chapters and sections. Having a plan before you start writing will save you a lot of time when you get down to the business of writing. A good synopsis or plan will also highlight any gaps in your research which you can sort out before you get scribbling.
Your first draft
Now is the time to stop procrastinating and get down to some serious writing. If you are writing a book this may just be one or two chapters but whatever you plan to write, aim to keep going until you have finished. Don’t be tempted to edit and revise as you go along – there will be plenty of time for that later on. Even experienced writers don’t get it right first time. If you are an inexperienced writer, you may have to write several more drafts before you are anywhere near satisfied. However, it is only through practice that your writing skills will develop and improve.
Let it sit before revising
Once you have written your first draft leave it for a few days before you read it again. You will come back to it with fresh eyes and be able to read it more objectively. If you find it hard to review your own work, ask someone else to read it and give you some suggestions on how you can improve it.
Once you have got your first draft out of the way you can start to concentrate on your writing style. If you are an experienced writer you may have cracked this already but if you are still developing your skills as a writer, now is the time to check that you like what you have written.
For example, is your writing engaging (in other words will an audience want to read it)? Does it flow well, is it easy to read? Have you used words and expressions that reflect your personality rather than trying to impress with unnecessarily long words or tired, sad clichés? Have you helped your readers by setting the scene and incorporating some broader historical context? Have you created a story around your facts, figures and dates rather than producing a boring old list? Have you divided your work into manageable-length paragraphs and sentences? Have you avoided getting too bogged down in detail?
It is all of these elements of style which will help to engage your readers and determine whether they will be interested enough to carry on reading.