Do you find yourself scurrying from one bit of information to the next without taking the time to sit down and really analyze what you've found? Yep, I'm guilty of this myself. When I'm busy discovering new information I feel like I am truly making progress. And I am, but at some point I need to stop gathering data and analyze my findings. But I often have a difficult time transitioning from one mode to the other.
This is not a newly recognized problem for me. No, this goes back at least twenty years. When working in research labs over the years I had to force myself at the end of each week to transcribe my working notes for my experiments (successful or not) into my permanent notebook. In the process of writing everything in my notebook I thought more deeply about the significance of my results and often came up with better troubleshooting methods than moments after completing the experiment. So, if penning my results and conclusions into my notebook was so useful, why did I loathe it? Well, one reason I hated the task was because I felt (wrongly) that I wasn't “accomplishing” anything.
My other stumbling block is that I enjoy the thrill of the chase. One of the things I love about scientific research is that I can be the first person to see a new result and think “wow, so that's how it works!” The same is true in genealogy. Finding a new clue to my family's past is thrilling. Even if the “discovery” is something trivial to others, that excitement is what drives me to search for the next piece of the puzzle. However, in genealogy, as in science, at some point I need to put on the brakes and think about how that jigsaw piece fits into the larger picture. Beyond the big picture, there are other benefits to writing about my genealogy findings. First, it allows me to really see what holes I have. This can be dangerous because I then have to fight the urge to run off to fill the gap. But as I live several states away from Michigan and have a child to care for, I can't just hop in the car and satisfy my curiosity. Second, writing permits me to see how much I have learned since I last wrote up my findings (this can be fun). While this is valuable, it simply isn't as exciting as that momentary thrill of finding a new clue to the past.
Once I finally overcome the activation energy to writing I actually do enjoy it. This is, in part, why I began blogging. Although I didn't intend to work through some of my findings in my blog, it has sometimes worked out that way. This has been good for me, but when I contemplate writing another life story for one of my people (not book length by any means) I kind of get a sinking sensation. Part of this is the old “not accomplishing anything” feeling I get when I'm not crossing something off a list. The other part is that it is time-consuming to re-examine every scrap of information I have to come up with a satisfying whole (time I could be spending hunting down more information). While writing, I do get a little thrill when I realize “maybe THAT'S why Emma did (fill in blank).” In the end, however, the best part for me is receiving feedback from family who read what I write. When they tell me “I feel like I know Emma” I know I really have accomplished something. Maybe this year I can do better at bridging the gap between gathering and recording..
If you need more reasons to spur you to write I recommend you read an article that started me thinking about the subject. Harold Henderson's piece “How Not To Be Buffalo Hunters” is at Archives.com.