All writers would like to believe that their writing is cool, powerful and provocative.
Cool—as in the slang of my youth, meaning very good or pleasing
Powerful—meaning strong or intense; with the ability to persuade
Provocative—meaning with the ability to excite, stimulate or arouse
A presentation by Dr. Lorraine McConaghy, made me think about how, research infuses our writing with these three qualities. It also made me think about how often we fail to use the resources readily available to us.
Dr. McConaghy was talking about her new book, New Land, North of the Columbia, however when I returned home I realized that my notes contained as many references about her process for researching the book as they did to the contents of the book itself. I must admit this didn’t dampen my spirits at all.
Dr. McConaghy’s book is a historical study of Washington through the documents stored within public archives and museums. She said that she approached each archivist and curator by asking them what they had in their collection that was “cool, powerful or provocative.”
The more she spoke the more I realized how important the documents stored in our public archives can be to both fiction and nonfiction writers. As she reminded us, political and legal documents in a local archive can reveal insight into the past to help us understand the present. Vintage brochures, pamphlets and even art work on an old can found in a local museum, tell us something about the community and why the population believes what it believes and holds the ideals it holds.
For example, in her book Dr. McConaghy shared some promotional materials from an era when federal programs brought irrigation to Eastern Washington in hopes that the “desert would bloom”. Irrigation, of course, played a major role in turning parts of Eastern Washington into the agricultural centers that they are today.
Don’t tremble at this point because, as Dr. McConaghy points out, these public archives are part of our public inheritance and many are free. Some of the data, such as land records and patents can be accessed online.
Dr. McConaghy encouraged us to honor the documents and archives of our state and to honor the collection managers charged with the responsibility of maintaining the collections. This I will do.
I am looking forward to exploring the possibilities and finding inspiration as I spend more time accessing our public archives. I plan to keep my mind open as I look for ideas that will help make my writing cool, powerful and provocative.
[Note 1: This piece was written for Three Word Wednesday. This week’s words are: dampen, tremble and keep.
Note 2: Dr. McConaghy is an engaging speaker with a delightful sense of humor. It is clear that she has thoroughly researched her books and can provide delightful antidotes about both the subject matter and her research. She is the Public Historian at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry. More about her and her work can be found at the following sites: