Through the weeds and into the woods

1 Tug log page

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently reading and transcribing log entries for the steam tugboat Baltimore. Yeah, fascinating – if you like that sort of thing. Not so much if you like your history condensed, slicked up, and pre-packaged already.

2 Tug Log 12 June 1984

When I started out trying to write history books, I had to learn that the good stuff – the information I was most interested in finding and possibly using in a book or an essay – was not already published. A lot of what I was finding published was the product of some other writer who’d already been through the information, or had at least glossed over it, and had taken a little of this and a little of that, but mostly had just researched from the writings of others. But the results were not pleasing to me because it didn’t bring anything new. For instance, when reading and researching the American Civil War, I discovered that many writers were depending on the same sources already written about third and fourth-hand. They were copying one another, rather than returning to the original documents, and rather than finding documents that had not been quoted or drawn from in the past.

3 Tug log 10 Nov 1996

Aha, I thought – that is the road I want to take. The one that has all the bumps and wends its way going across the field and into the deep weeds. The road without a track already made by the wheels of the previous follower. Through the weeds and into the woods, where you have to peel back the bark and look underneath for the juicy grubs of facts.

This winter, my book partner on the steam tugboat Baltimore project suggested I look into the log books of the tug. It was an excellent suggestion that horrified me because I hadn’t already done so, and thought I was done with primary document research on that project. Well, now I’ve gone through them, and learned a lot. I’ve incorporated some of it into the manuscript, and hopefully, Bob Pratt and I can now finish the layout of the book. He’s the graphic designer and layout artist for this book. I merely write the text.

4 Cover tug log IMG_1492 copy

It’s time for this book to sail. Soon, I hope. – DW

 

 

Advertisements

Primary Research is Slow

Tug Baltimore March 2019 IMG_1349 copy
Steam tugboat Baltimore, photo copyright David W. Wooddell

I’ve written before about working in archives, and doing primary research. These days, I’ve been back at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, digging through their original documents. It’s fascinating stuff, but so time consuming. Slow is the enemy of the freelance writer. I’ve been on this project for five years, and I’m still working on it. Will it make a million dollars? I don’t even think it will make a million pennies. Yet, I persist – because I’m thorough. I don’t want to walk away from five years of hard work.

During the time I’ve been on this project, one of my other projects fell through as my main source became disgusted with my slowness and withdrew from the exclusive agreement we had for me to mine his documents and write about his big project. Of course, that was a story of a sunken ship and the important legal case over ownership of millions of dollars worth of silver.

My current project concerns a boat that has not yet sunk – but may well sink at her dock because of lack of maintenance. I desperately hope my book project is published before that happens.