“How many books are you writing?” my father asked the other day when I held up the huge stack of duplication I just received from the UVa Special Collections Library.

A List of People Enslaved Here - Perhaps the most comprehensive document I have.

Just one. Just one.

I didn’t have the heart or the time to tell Dad that most of those pieces of paper contained one tiny reference – maybe three words – about a person I was researching, that it will require thousands of these pages with these tiny phrases to tell a story.

When I only have references to “Billy’s new coat” and a prescription for Anaka, it takes a scores of documents and hour of minutes to piece together a timeline, much less a story for these people. This is one of the lingering tragedies of slavery, that these people are reduced to mentions in doctor’s invoices and fabric purchase lists. The written records are scant, even as they are voluminous in length.

So today, I take these pages and pages of references, and I decorate these names with my yellow highlighter. I pull their stories from the pages, one tiny reference at a time.

Just one book, Dad. Just one important book.

Do you find the process of writing to require many more pages than you will actually use in your final pieces? How does that make you feel?