Don’t Write the Tedious Thing

Revisions, October 2019

At times while working on my book over the years, I would become resentful of it, as if it had its own expectations, as if the draft itself were insisting I recount the entire history of genealogy in the United States or offer a dissertation on genetics. Ugh, now I have to write this boring part, I would think. I would spend a few days in active rebellion against this directive that I imagined the book was imposing.

Then I would realize: this is my book! There are no rules! I can write it however I want! Also, I would think, if I’m bored by something that I believe I need to write, the reader undoubtedly will be too, if not because the subject is inherently boring, then because I myself find it so unbearably tedious to imagine discussing it for five pages. Often as not, I would remember some aspect of the subject that deeply interested me, something a little outside the way it’s usually perceived or written about. Then I would meditate on that, and soon I would be scribbling notes from an increasingly excited place until I found a way forward. A form of beginner’s mind.

None of this made writing the book go faster. In some ways it was more challenging to try to figure out how to put it together in a way that kept me interested, line by line, page by page, and chapter by chapter. But it was a much friendlier approach, and I recommend it. Whatever the book’s shortcomings, it’s so much better than it would have been if I’d trudged along.

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Maud Newton

Maud Newton

Writer. Ancestor Trouble (Random House). Work in NYT Mag, Harper's, Esquire, the Guardian, WSJ... Newsletter sign-up in Linktree. Opinions mine. she/her