Monday, December 01, 2008

Always Collect

...and not in just the "Hummel figurines" kind of collecting.

Only Collect; that is to say, collect everything, indiscriminately. You’re five years old. Don’t presume too much to know what’s important and what isn’t. Photocopy journal articles, photograph archives; create bibliographies, buy books; make notes on every article or book you read, even if it’s just one line saying “Never read this again”; collect newspaper clippings and email them to yourself; collect quotes; save your ideas for future papers, future projects, future conferences, even if they seem wildly implausible now. Hoarding must become instinctual, it must be an uncontrollable, primal urge. And the higher, civilizing impulse that kicks in after the fact is organization, or librarianship.
The website is "A Historian's Craft," and the recommendation to collect is as a jumping-off point for a lifetime of historical scholarism. The focus is to make sure you have references available when beginning to assemble data — which a wise option for anybody aspiring to be a writer. Arthur Mee, creator of the Self-Educator and the Children's Encyclopedia, kept an enoromous catalog of clippings and references to pull his information from. Authors, whether writing a textbook or writing a short story, need to pull information from someplace, and a long-held fallacy is that everything comes from a spark of inspiration deep inside a talented-person's brain. Talent may have a lot to do with the quality of writing, but in terms of content the amount of information you put into your writing is directly related to the amount of information you have at hand. Unless you can rely entirely on your brain, it is far easier to amass a library to refer to. Especially if you have no idea what the future may bring: the wifey and I were recently discussing a series of children's books set in pre-WWII Europe. I have no library of 1930s Europe in my head, but we do have plenty of early 20th century books and magazines. I'll be more successful relying on the books than my own memory of high school history class. (via)

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