Making History: How to Remember, Record, Interpret and Share the Events of Your Life
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What is your book about?
Making History is a comprehensive, easy-to-use, fun method of exploring the times of your (or someone else’s) life against a backdrop of historic events. It illuminates personal power, providing an antidote to the apathetic assumption that one person cannot make a difference. It contains detailed historic timelines from 1930 through 1989; vibrant true stories full of humor, tragedy, and excitement; thought-provoking questions to help the reader discover how they contributed to and participated in the events of their time; and easily accessible information arranged in eight categories, which are: Economics and Politics, The Social Fabric (race, gender, and morality), War and the International Scene, Technology and Science, Crime and Disaster, Arts and Entertainment, Lifestyle Activities (food, fashion, toys, sports, etc.), and The Weird and Trivial (scandals and gossip, comics, slang, pets, etc.)
Making History appeals to genealogists, family historians, memoirists, biographers, writers of recent historical fiction, ghostwriters, and anyone who wants to remember what they (or their family members) were doing in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s. It helps readers discover their place in history, remember stories they might have forgotten, and create powerful vignettes which anchor them in “big” history.
What inspired you to write your book?
In 2000, I had opted out of corporate life and was trying to make it as a freelance writer. I ghostwrote books and memoirs for others, and also taught memoir writing at senior citizen centers, encouraging folks to write their stories down. I wanted more people to know who and where I was, so I proposed teaching my memoir writing class to a big community college in my area, for their continuing education program.
They weren’t interested. They already had a memoir writing teacher. But they saw I had degrees in history, so they asked me if I could teach history instead. My first reaction was to think, “I don’t want to teach history” because my degrees were over 20 years old and were in Elizabethan history (16th century England) besides. But I wanted to teach for them, so the words that came out of my mouth were, “Okay, I’ll teach a history class.”
I guess I cheated, because I sure didn’t teach about Elizabethan England. Instead, I focused on recent history – from 1930 onward, and taught how to see one’s individual life as history. I even worked some writing tips into the class. The class has been a great success; I’m still teaching it today at continuing education programs, historical societies, genealogical societies, and other venues. The system I developed, along with many of the stories I heard in class, are what Making History is about. The class I didn’t want to teach turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, and a book I am extremely proud of.
Can you describe your writing process?
Sometimes I write on the keyboard, sometimes I scribble with a pen. (It has to be a fountain pen. I have a prejudice against ball points.) Sometimes I sit at my desk; sometimes I sit in a big, ugly green recliner with my feet up and my laptop on (where else) my lap. When I get stuck, I change positions and tools. Amazing how well this works.
When I ghostwrite, I conduct interviews, have them transcribed, and then pretend I am someone else so I can tell their story or tout their services. It’s a little like being an actor, only on the page instead of the stage.
When I write my own “stuff,” I try to make my probable or desired readers as real to me as possible, so I can wow them with a good story or teach them something they want to learn. I ask myself questions like “Is Desired Reader male or female or both? Over 50 or under 30? Couch potato or fitness freak? And so on. When I ghostwrite, I do this exercise with my client. Then, when I write the book, I imagine this reader hanging on my every word.
The most important process rule I follow is that I never edit while I write the first draft. Judgment of any kind kills my creativity and my joy. I save editing for the second draft. (And the third, fourth, fifth …)
How did you come to do what you’re doing today?
The first book I ghostwrote was for my own grandmother. I wrote the story of her coming to America as a child, her experiences as a “flapper” in the 1920s, her housewife life in a mountain logging town during the Depression, and her war service in the Second World War. I interviewed her and recorded our conversations, and she loaned me a box of old letters in spidery handwriting, plus about thirty albums full of photos of people even she couldn’t remember. I wrote it in first person, in her voice, using many of the phrases characteristic of my grandmother, with idioms common for her era. I wrote the book for love of my grandmother and because I wanted my own two daughters to know their heritage.
Grandma loved her book. She was so proud of it she showed it to all her friends, and since she was a highly social woman, a lot of people got to see it. One of those people raved about the book to her daughter, and then the daughter called me up and asked me to do the same thing for her mother. That was my first paid ghostwriting job. I charged a miniscule amount considering the energy and time I spent on it, but it was a great learning experience to write for/as a total stranger. It too was a success, and for the first time it occurred to me that I might be able to make a living doing what I loved – writing – and had been doing “on the side” for the previous twenty-odd years.
So I was off and running … well, not really running. I was off and limping. I had a lot to learn about ghostwriting, especially about how to market my services. But that was almost 20 years ago, and here I still am. And now I am so much smarter about the ghostwriting business, and how to live the ghostwriter’s life. I no longer charge miniscule amounts, for one thing. I know how to conduct a great interview, winkling out stories and ideas my clients thought they had forgotten. I know some tricks to make my writing sound like someone else wrote it. I know legal stuff about copyright, royalties, and confidentiality. I know how to combat the ghostwriting “stigma” so people know it is okay to use a ghostwriter. I know how to convince people that it’s worth their time, energy, and especially their money to write a book. And those are just a few of the many things I now know about being a ghostwriter.
I believe that writing – or sharing in some way – our stories, ideas, and wisdom, is one of our most important life tasks. Our stories show us how we connect with each other, they allow us to teach and learn, they inspire us, and they heal our divisions and our wounds. Our ideas, and our lives, matter. This is why I do what I do, and it’s why I think ghosts are the good guys.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
A typical morning starts with “morning pages” – three pages full of stream-of-consciousness writing in longhand. I’ve been doing morning pages for over twenty years, ever since I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I cannot bring myself to discard these notebooks, which now take up an inordinate amount of space in my garage. My first books were born from morning pages, plus excellent ideas for how to structure ghostwriting projects or interview clients. They also hold a lot of whining and trivia.
After morning pages, I write a haiku. I’ve been writing one haiku a day also for over twenty years. I got this idea from another book about writing, whose title and author I cannot now remember. She (I think it was a she) suggested would-be writers try to write just one thing per day, no matter how small. Even a three-line haiku would be enough, she said, to prove you were a real writer, a real artist. “I can do that,” I thought. Even though I was a single mom with a demanding job, surely I could manage seventeen measly syllables each day. So I determined I would try. I wanted to fulfill the dream I’d had since childhood. I wanted to lay claim to that powerful statement, I am an artist.
Finally, I do “morning art pages,” which means I draw or paint an image from the previous day, or sometimes illustrate the haiku I just wrote, or an image out of my morning pages scribbles. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years. It too has been instructive, illuminating, productive, and addictive.
After these three regular morning practices, I can’t describe anything typical. I write. I walk my dog. But what I write and where I walk depends on what stories are waiting for me to tell. They are always varied. That’s what makes it fun.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
It’s not enjoyment I feel when I write, it’s the feeling of being where I’m supposed to be. Years ago I wrote a blog post about this feeling, which I’ll share here. It’s called “Making Bumblebees Buzz.”
When I was about four years old, I wrote a poem about a bumblebee that my mother thought was the best poem any child had ever written. She copied it out in her prettiest handwriting, using a pen with thick black ink, and adding many flourishes and curlicues. She used her best white stationary, not the newsprint I originally wrote it on. Then she illustrated it with her own fabulous drawings where the bumblebees really looked like bees, not dots, and the flowers like flowers, not smudges.
She hung this creation inside a real frame, on the living room wall, not on the refrigerator. Everyone who came into our house was taken to see the poem and it was read aloud to them. Mom always followed the reading with, “And she’s only four!”
Many nights that year, when the house was dark and silent, I would get out of bed and tiptoe into the living room so I could gaze at my framed poem hanging in that place of honor. I have won other honors since then, for which I am grateful, but none of them have given me as much satisfaction as my bumblebee poem in my mother’s handwriting.
Most of us still have a four-year-old inside us somewhere. When I write I hear my mother encouraging me to come out and play with words, and make my bumblebees buzz.
Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?
Of course. I always wanted to be a writer, even as a little kid. You should read some of my first efforts – my mother saved them and when I read them now I am even more grateful that I had a mother who supported my dream in spite of an apparent lack of talent. (I got better later.)
In the late eighties I was working in the high-tech industry when I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg on an airplane from Seattle to Chicago, and when I got off the plane I was different. Later I read Wild Mind, also by Goldberg. That is when I started to write short stories “on the side.” Some time later, I read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. I didn’t just read it, I followed her instructions to write morning pages and do artist’s dates. That led to writing my first book, and then I started to seriously contemplate quitting my day job and going out on my own as a freelance writer. Which I eventually did.
Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron changed my life. And my mom, of course.
Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
People are always surprised when they find out I’m a ghostwriter. Most people have never met one. I’m also an artist – I make masks. They cover the walls of my studio. My latest book (just finished so not yet published) is called The Masks on Grandmother’s Wall, about a storyteller and her granddaughters, their stories told through various masks. Despite some resemblance to my life, it is fiction.
What’s next for you?
Over the past few years I became very busy with ghostwriting projects. This is a good problem to have, but the downside was that I had little time to devote to writing my own books. So this year I’m taking fewer projects for others and am dedicating a larger portion of my time to my own work. Currently I have thirteen books in various stages of completion, which is a little daunting, so I’m taking them one at a time. (Okay, maybe two at a time.) Some of them are almost done, some are halfway done, and a few are just bright ideas waking me up in the middle of the night.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Visit me on my website, www.kimpearson.me. One feature on my blog is called “Haiku Friday” where I share one of my haiku and hope others will share theirs on the same topic. Also, I offer an online course, Learn to Ghost. Ghostwriting has given me so much joy, as well as enabling me to earn my living doing what I love – writing. I can’t write all the great stories out there, so I developed this course to share what I’ve learned about ghostwriting. If anyone reading this is interested in becoming a ghostwriter, check out this program here. http://kimpearson.me/learntoghost