The Family History Writing Challenge: 2015

I realized this morning that we are almost half way through the first month of the new year. Feels like I’m not getting enough done each day. How about you? After taking a long break from working on my Dad’s Key West history I need to get back into it. I’m thinking Lynn Palermo’s Family History Writing Challenge might be just the perfect motivator. If you’ve done it before jump on board again this year. February is just around the corner. If not check out her website, register and then get set to more writing done this year.

Key West: cross-country drive

1955 US Highway System

We had a breakthrough in the last week on the route my Dad took to Key West. He had 30 days leave after finishing instructors school in San Diego. I assumed he spent that time with his parents. But this last week my Dad remembered that he went to the Bay area to visit a friend and her family. We are pretty sure that he drove from there to Key West not from San Diego. We also think that he picked up his car in San Francisco. His transfer orders show him flying from Barbers Point in Hawaii to Moffett Field in the Bay area to San Diego and then checking in at the Naval Training Center in San Diego.

He remembers taking a train from San Francisco to Palo Alto where his friend Pat lived and a couple of outings while there. So he must have picked up his car there. He remembers once picking up a car and having to replace the battery. This time makes the most sense because of how long it would have been since he had driven it. You had to turn the car in a couple of weeks before your departure. Then it would have come by boat and sat waiting for him for at least 4 weeks. That would have been 6 weeks and maybe two more weeks of his leave before he picked it up.

Yesterday we got together and plotted his most probable route and likely cities he might have stopped in each night. Her remembered a couple of things along the route. He drove near a small town in Arizona where Pat’s family used to live. He wondered if he had taken the now famous historic route 66. He knows he didn’t drive through New Orléans until a few years later after my parents were married. He also remember taking what was then known as route 41 down through Florida. Adding all of that together we are pretty sure of most of the route.

We know he arrived two days early. He had 13 days for travel. So assuming he left 13 days before he was due in Key West we figure he made it in 11 days. I thought it was his first time really driving cross-country by him self but I found out that when he was in Key West before he drove his motorcycle from Key West to Chicago where his parents were living at the time. On that trip he rain into some cold wet weather. So even though this trip was hot (being early September) it must have been much easier physically than a couple thousand mile road trip on a motorcycle in March.

Here are our current guesses at his stops each night and the number of miles it takes to get there on today’s roads:

  1. Bakerfields, California (261 miles) 29 August
  2. Needles, California (272 miles) 30 August
  3. Holbrook, Arizona (298 miles) 31 August
  4. Silver City, New Mexico (230 miles) 1 September
  5. Pecos, Texas (364 miles) 2 September
  6. Cisco, Texas (239 miles) 3 September
  7. Shreveport, Louisiana (323 miles) 4 September
  8. Meridian, Mississippi (306 miles) 5 September
  9. Albany, Georgia (336 miles) 6 September
  10. Lakeland, Florida (340 miles) 7 September
  11. Miami, Florida (279 miles) – 8 September
  12. Key West, Florida (156 miles) – 9 September

This is pure speculation of course and we ended up with one more day than we think it took him but also a theory on why. My Dad check in at 0915 on September 9th. There really isn’t any place he would have likely stayed past Miami and yet to get from Miami to Key West that early in the morning means he would have to get up really early. So maybe when he got to Miami late he just decided to keep right on going and got to Key West the next morning. Hopefully some more memories will come back to him and we can have more confidence in this trip.

My next task is to look up the historical weather data for the days we think he was in each of these towns so we can use it to flesh out more of what his trip was probably like. I’m really enjoying the time that I get to spend with my Dad working on this project.

Key West: update

I found an introductory SCUBA class. It lasts about an hour and costs $25. Not bad. I think I’d better wait for my seasonal allergies to pass before I jump into the pool. Popping my ears doesn’t work to well when my noses is stuffed. Plus the last week or so my allergies are driving me crazy. Too much time outside one day sets me up for a really bad day the next day.

I’ve had mixed success on writing 500 words per day. I was good last Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday not a word was written. Monday I did my 500 words and worked on a list of possible stories that might be included in the book. On Tuesday I got my 500 words in but it was a late night rush to get it done. I did better today having just finished my writing along with some research on the building of the railroad into Key West and the Castro revolution.

One thing I found helpful this week, that I finally did last time I chatted with my Dad about Key West. I used my phone to record the conversation so I could refer back to it and not worry about taking notes. I also took a short video clip with my camera of how to clear the water out of your face mask. I highly recommend it. Both have been helpful. With today’s technology it is super easy to do.

Writing Challenge: day 58

The last day of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge has finally come. Kind of unbelievable. At times I wondered if I’d ever get through it but I was determined, no mater how long it took me to complete this. One of my goals with the challenge was to make a regular habit of doing something toward my Dad’s Key West history. For the most part I’ve accomplished that. I’ve also learned how much I still have to learn about writing creative non-fiction. But I have a plan for continuing to move forward with the history and improving my writing skills. Here are highlights of Lynn’s advice on the last day of her 28 day family history writing challenge:

  •  Take a lesson from this challenge and enlist the help of others.
  •  Continue to improve your craft.
  •  Find your ideal time.
  •  Plan your writing.
  •  Seek deadlines and accountability.
  •  Believe you are a writer.

The last one hit me the hardest. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I’m not a writer.” I am now vowing to never utter those words again. I certainly won’t become a writing if I keep saying that. To accomplish my goals I need to become a writing. The other one that needs some attention is finding an ideal time to write. While I’ve gotten this done almost everyday during the challenge, I haven’t been consistent with the time. So I’m setting a goal to figure out when that is and try it and adjust until I really do find the best time to write everyday.

Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me through this challenge. I think I’ll do at least weekly updates on how the Key West history is doing.

Writing Challenge: day 57

Second to the last day of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge! And fittingly today’s topic is about last lines. I’ve honestly never thought about this topic before. At least not consciously. Just another example of how much I have learned and still have to learn about writing. Here are the things that Lynn suggested to consider in writing great last lines in a family story:

  • Your last lines certainly need to bring a sense of finality to your story.
  • Your last line should resonate with your theme.
  • Your last line should be about your main ancestor and his final thoughts.  If you’re writing a memoir, then your final thoughts should be expressed in those last sentences.
  • Your last lines should demonstrate your ancestor’s growth or your growth through your family history journey.
  • Your last lines should slow the pace of your story down and ease the reader to the end.
  • Your last lines can teach a lesson or moral (of course without being preachy).
  • Your last lines should leave your reader with an understanding of how your ancestor’s life proceeded after the story is over.
  • Your last lines should be uplifting and hopeful.

Lynn also talked about writing the ending in advance. It helps in plotting the story to come full circle to the ending you want. She also has four formats to try in writing the last line.

  1. As a line of description
  2. Demonstrating your ancestor’s actions
  3. As a line of dialogue by your ancestor
  4. As an internal monologue by your ancestor or a thought or feeling by you the narrator.

Another excellent lesson by Lynn Palermo!

Writing Challenge: day 56

“Reading Like a Writer” is the topic for today in the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge Day 26. Just two days to finish. I’ve loved reading since the 5th grade when my teacher taught me to read for the enjoyment not so I could write a book report. Most of my reading in the last few years has been audio books that I listen to while I make dinner and do the dishes etc. Since starting this challenge I’ve noticed some of the tools authors use to tell their story that I’ve never noticed before. From reading the list below I see there are still more ways I can learn from my reading. Here are Lynn’s suggestions on how reading can help us to become better writers:

  1. Concentrate on reading books in your genre but don’t limit yourself. Read a wide range of books in a wide range of genres.
  2. Just like writing make reading a habit – a daily habit.
  3. Set a reading goal, I try to read 3 books a month.  I wish it could be more. Set a goal based on your own schedule. Join a book club; this is one of the best ways to make sure you’re reading on a regular basis and exposes you to a variety of books that others are choosing for you.
  4. Carry your reading with you; make the most of every opportunity to read.
  5. Read for enjoyment but also analyze character, plot and theme when reading.
  6. If a book resonates with you, read it a second time focusing on the more specifics of the story structure, the writer’s style and choices.
  7. Pay attention to the words, the preferences the writer makes and the organization and flow of those words.
  8. Don’t be afraid to take notes. It deepens your learning, gives you time to absorb what you’ve read and provides a resource for future reference.
  9. Write a review of a book you read, this provides you the opportunity to share some lessons you learned or explore some of the ideas it brought up for you.
  10. Read a wide range of writers from great writers, classic writers to current writers and unknown writers. There is a writing lesson in every book.
  11. Don’t waste time reading a book you don’t enjoy or understand. There are too many books in the world, put it down and move on to the next.
  12. Take cues from other writers.  Experiment with concepts you see other writers doing, then take it one step further and manipulate it and make it your own.

Writing Challenge: day 55

It is my 55th day in the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge but it is her 25th day and the topic is “Improving Your Story Through Feedback”. Lynn gives some consideration in finding a group to give valuable in improving the quality of our family stories. Here they are:

  • Critique groups and writing groups are not necessarily the same thing.
  • In-Person or Online Groups. There are pros and cons to both in-person and online groups.
  • In-person groups can be more restrictive.
  • On-line Groups offer flexibility.
  • Open and closed groups. 
  • Genre-based groups. 
  • Consider a single critique partner.
  • Don’t be discouraged if your first group doesn’t work out.

I’m glad that we have a writing coach to work with on this project. I think her teaching will really help me progress faster and get a better story in the end. Today writing exercise was to take one sentence in which you are “telling” and revise it into a “showing” sentence. Here is my original sentence:

Ray started the 2600 miles journey across the southern United States on Labor Day weekend.

Here is my attempt at showing:

The warm air flowed across the drop of sweat that trickled down the side of his check as Ray crossed into Arizona. At 60 miles per hour the telephone poles clicked by at an amazing speed and flags fluttered on many of the houses that he passed by.

I still feel really clueless even though I’ve learned lots in the last couple of months. So much more to applying these principles but at least I have some awareness of them now. “One day at a time,” I keep telling myself.