Writing Nonfiction

Capital Days : Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation's CapitalI love it when I find interviews with fellow authors.  This week, I discovered Library of Congress interviews with nonfiction author Tonya Bolden.  When I was reading the description of her book Capital Days : Michael Shiner’s Journal and the Growth of our Nation’s Capital, I was thrilled to see that she is known for illustrating our nation’s history by focusing on the story of a single person.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love this type of history.

When the students asked Bolden how she begins a project, she told them that she always start with a panic along the lines of “can I pull off this story?” The reality is that each book she writes presents unique challenges so she can’t say “this is do-able” based on the fact that she’s already written a large number of books.  That said, she always calms down when she starts to do the research and sees the story begin to emerge.

Like me, she goes back and forth between research and writing.  As she writes, she discovers blank spots in her research but she doesn’t let this stop her writing.  Instead, she marks each of these things with TK.  She explained this as meaning “to come” although she says that as copy marks go it doesn’t make sense, but believes that the combination isn’t found in any English word so you can use it and easily search it out in a manuscript.  She researches, writes with a lot of TKs, and then goes back to discover these details once she knows where the story is going.

One resource that she recommends for those who write history is a subscription to Geneology.  This subscription allows her to read historic newspapers online.  That said, this access comes with a warning. With so much information available online you have to be careful not to get lost in it and never come out to write.


For more tips from Bolden, be sure to check out these LIbrary of Congress videos – Every book begins with a panic, Research skills, and History benefits us all. Personally, I’m waiting to get a handful of her books from the library.