Interviews don’t follow a linear narrative. So this is how I start turning interview transcripts into a finished book: by printing them, cutting the printouts into hundreds of little statements and stories, then taping them into vertical strips, organized depending on the storyteller’s history and also just by how it feels right to me. I tape these strips to the walls of my work area and rearrange them until I like the flow, and then I rearrange the document on my word processor to match.
When these strips are all over the walls, it’s like being surrounded by “paper trees” in a forest of life experiences, some large (a big job promotion, a wedding, the loss of a parent) and some small (a day at the beach, a favorite party dress, a kind word when it was needed). Other than the interviews themselves, this is my favorite part of being a personal historian: the process by which a drift of papers slowly blooms into the story of a life.