I never meant to be a basket historian. I intended to take a jumble of illustrations and texts and turn them into a respectable, but short, material culture study. I figured there wasn’t that much, so why spend a lot of time on it? Besides, I just wanted more experience writing material culture articles. This seemed like a quick way there.
Of course, since it never had a real deadline, it never quite got finished. The writing was always in progress, and so was the research. I kept running into the basket in the background of some painting or advertised in a tool catalog. Slowly my source count blossomed and so did the scope of the work.
As it grew, it became known among a few friends as “the basket article.” They knew it as something always on the verge of coming out. Soon, I kept promising and asking them not to share the images I had shared with them.
It was eight years of such research and requests. Finally, in the Spring of 2016 I was finished. It came to over 80 pages, encompassing thirteen pages of text and over 65 images ranging from the 16th century through the 21st. There was a lot of information.
I self-published the basket article online. I chose to self-publish for pragmatic reasons. It had a high page count and the use fees for all of the images was prohibitively expensive. I didn’t think there was a journal that would pay to publish some, much less all of them. The images were the article’s strength, so online it was.
Once it was online I started sharing it on various social media sites, figuring some people might be interested. It got a few shares and reads. Through those shares it had been recommended to the editor of The
Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association. I was fortunate enough to work with their editor, Patty MacLeish. Not only did she take great care editing the work, making suggestions, and taking the time to clear up any issues, she was able to obtain permissions for almost every image in the original article. It was published as the cover story of the December 2016 issue.
In endeavoring to get new and renewed experience at writing and publishing, I wound up with two times the experience. So what did I learn? What will make next time easier?
- I needed to finish researching before starting to write, because…
- The research dictated the structure. Every time I tried to impose a structure on it it didn’t feel right. It was only when I looked at the shape of the material that I saw how it fit together.
- Since I wrote for a historically-minded audience, I chose footnotes instead of endnotes because they would most likely want access to the sources as immediately as the story.
- I wrote in large blocks, which wasn’t always the best choice. I had Mondays off at the time and could devote the day to writing. I should have written in short spurts with breaks in between. I often wrote till I was distracted, and then still kept trying to write in an attempt to not “waste the day.”
- I didn’t write a first draft quickly and then edit the hell out of it. To quote others, I am a better editor than writer.
- As often happens mid-project, I found I had to talk myself out of stopping because I thought nobody would be interested or it wasn’t worth all this effort.
- Building, editing, and checking the footnotes took the most time. Technology now allows that to be automated too. I need to explore Zotero, or a similar program. Perhaps it will make writing the next article easier.
- I like a good editor and was fortunate to work with one for the magazine version. It was helpful to have a “technician” spend time on the article, seeing where it needed a little more or a little less.
- While working with an editor is helpful, I still needed to know exactly what I wanted the magazine version to say and be. I was perhaps too laid back at times about certain things.
- I thought I would write the article, put it out there, and move on. However, the attention it got kept bringing me back to it. I didn’t plan enough time for the whole project, but then I am not sure I could have. Certainly a nice problem to have.
- It was surprising who took an interest. Not only did a magazine want to share it, there were a couple of responses from magazine readers. Both were kind and offered evidence that pushed the earliest date of the baskets back by centuries.
- The excitement of being almost finished with the online version meant I made some editing errors. I should have taken a little more time to double check the citations and links.
- I like the idea writing the article first for an online, self-publishing platform and then finding a print home for it. It means I can take my time and get it where I want it and then work with an editor for publication.
Since the article came out more references have surfaced. So I’m back where I started, trying to figure out if it’s worth updating the article or just doing a blog post. A blog post won’t take that long, right?