How long does it take to write an historical biography? And when is it considered finished? Well, that depends….
In my case, it seems impossible that I started working on the biography of my great-grandfather, Dr. Harry G. Blaine, more than 20 years ago! I already had on hand the basic materials for the book: my great-grandfather’s diary, my grandfather’s biography of his father and a memoir of his growing up as the son of a doctor, and copies of some other family-related history. My grand delusion was that this would be just like writing a research paper for a college class. And I was one of those odd students who really enjoyed writing research papers!
It didn’t take long to shatter that delusion. Writing a full-length book was a lot more complicated than any research paper I had ever written. Over the intervening years, I collected more family documents that were hidden away in my cousins’ and sisters’ attics. I read numerous books and articles on various aspects of medicine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as family and cultural life and historical events in those times. My bibliography swelled to more than 40 sources!
Another struggle was how best to organize the book. I didn’t want it to be just a dry recitation of important dates and events in Dr. Blaine’s life. I wanted to create a story or series of stories that would educate the reader in addition to revealing more about Dr. Blaine and the legacy he left behind.
When I finally completed that first rough draft, it was a moment of victory. I had actually done it! I now had a framework on which to hang any additional material that might be relevant. Ironically, that was the hardest part. As I looked back through my reading and research notes, I kept finding more gems to include. Help! Where do I stop?
Finally one day I just put the book away for a while. Now the longer I ignore it, the harder it is to pick it back up! One side of my brain says, “Nobody’s going to be interested in that boring, old stuff anyway. Just throw it in a drawer and forget about it.” The other side of my brain says, “Don’t waste all that hard work! Finish it off and share it. Family members will read it even if no one else does.”
I’ll let you know which side wins.