30/05/2018
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Beating writer's block - ten top tips for genealogists

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Find out how to overcome writer's block with Natalie Pithers' top tips for genealogists who write a blog or write-up their family history.

Family Tree's regular blogger Paul Chiddicks says: Have you ever considered writing a blog about your family history research? If not, why not give it a try? If you enjoy writing about your ancestors and the things that they got up to, why not share it with others in the form of a blog? I have only recently discovered the art of blogging myself, but with a little bit of help and encouragement it can help you grow your tree. 

For those of you that are already blogging away, you will at some point hit the dreaded writer's block, but rest assured if you follow the tips below, you will soon be back to your creative best. This month I am introducing a very good friend of mine, Natalie Pithers, who has kindly agreed to help me out from my own writer's block moment. 

Natalie has kindly written this month’s blog for you all to enjoy, so sit back relax and follow Natalie’s tips and guides, which will also help and inspire you, with new and creative ideas to grow your tree.

Ten ideas to solve writer’s block, by Natalie Pithers

I recently read a tweet from a fellow blogger asking for inspiration to help them break through their writer’s block. I think we've all been there! Whether you write a blog, or are trying to collate your research into interesting stories, we all get stuck for ideas sometimes. This got me thinking; when you are scratching your head for ideas, where can you look for inspiration?

1. Occupations

Whether you've a host of agricultural labourers in your family tree, or an eclectic mix of professionals, looking at our ancestor’s working life can provide great inspiration for your own writing. What was an average day at work like? What hours would they keep? How much did they earn? Was their work secure or precarious? Did they way in which they worked change over time? What effect did industrialisation have, or the digital age?

Have you already written about your ancestor’s working life? If so, why not write a guide to help others discover information about their ancestor's jobs?

2. Your peer group

What are your fellow genealogists writing about? Do you have the same experiences, or something different? What are your favourite blogs? That can be a discussion piece in itself! Is there a hot topic at the moment, or have you seen people asking similar questions to each other? Could you write an answer? Or perhaps explain why there is no easy answer?

3. What did you do today? What did your ancestors do on a typical day?

Think about what you did today, or this week. Maybe travelling to work, cooking lunch or managing the school run. Did your ancestors do any of those activities? Chances are they did - but perhaps very differently! Looking at everyday activities, and how they may have been done similarly or differently across the ages can be fascinating. Did your ancestor go to school? What was it like? 

4. Food, glorious food!

I love food, and actually the history of food is really interesting. What type of lunch did your ancestors eat? Where did they get the ingredients? Have you tried any old recipes? Have you ever tried to eat like your ancestors? I'm thinking Ruth Goodman-style here! I keep planning to try to live for a month on World War Two rations... it would be an enlightening experience and a good blog post.

5. Tools

What websites, genealogy software, writing packages and note-keeping tools, do you use? Why? How? It's always great to hear about the tools that others find useful. Are you a spreadsheet whiz? Do you have a fantastic system for managing DNA matches? Please share! What about the records you've used to build your family tree? Could you tell others how to use them, or where they might find them?

6. Brick walls or success stories

Are you stuck? Why not tell the world about your brick wall, and the avenues you've taken to try to break it down. It might lead others to comment with new ideas. Similarly if you've solved a tricky conundrum, why not share it and help others learn to improve their research skills. We all learn new things from each other everyday, no matter how experienced we are.

7. Around the house

What was your ancestor’s home like? Their village, town or city? What about writing about the history of an everyday object? Sitting at the kitchen table - what would your ancestor’s furniture have been like? Did they even have any?! Who would have made it?

8. What's on the box?

Have you watched any really good (or bad!) history programmes recently? Or listened to any great (or terrible!) podcasts? Why not share your thoughts? Or perhaps you could do some further research and expand upon a topic touched upon in a popular show or documentary?

9. Flick through your photos

Do you have any favourite photos? Who is in them? What are they doing? Why do you like the picture? Could your photos inspire you to write something? What are the people in the photo wearing? Do you have a fond memory you'd like to share? 

Perhaps you don't have a photo... perhaps it's a keepsake, an old chipped lamp with sentimental value, or a dazzling antique piece of jewellery? How did you come to own it and what is its story?

10. Pick a card…

Pick a random ancestor, it doesn't have to be direct. Who are they? Could you write about them? Or some element of their life or the time in which they lived? Or perhaps the place that they lived in? Are you lacking information on them? Why? What could you do to flesh out their life? Could you share those ideas with others? Why not try creating a mind map based on your ancestor, looking at everything from their name to their shoe size? Surely there is something on the map that inspires you?

I hope these ten tips help you to find inspiration and new ideas for fresh writing topics. If you've any great tips for finding inspiration then please share them with me on twitter @geneastories. 

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