This is the first post in a new blog series from the Zachary Taylor Project named "Cherrypicking: A Collection of Moments and Movements from the Life of Zachary Taylor." As he researches to write a book about America's twelfth president, Cameron Coyle recounts his inspiration to start blogging about President Taylor, and explains how he hopes this will be beneficial to his researching and writing endeavors.
Eleven months since creating the Zachary Taylor Project website, I have something to admit.
Writing a book is hard.
This spring I thought I would be able to take all my Zachary Taylor anecdotes and historical trends and package them up into one classic American epic during the Quarantine. As November approaches, I have a host of ideas and outlines at my disposal - but few words to show for it.
My motivation cycle has worked like this: I’ll be going through my notes or reading a passage from one of the biographies in my mobile Zachary Taylor library and get a spark of an idea. For an hour or so, my neurons flash at warp speed, crafting the basis for what my masterpiece can and should become. On the cusp of this discovery and point of action, I’ve never felt so alive.
But some time passes - I settle down. Digging deeper into my memory bank, my emotional high recovers to normal levels. Aware of this new discovery, I try to urge myself to finally put it down into print. For some reason, however, I can’t do it. I stare at a blank Google Doc, frustrated as the ideas that sounded so eloquent in my head deform into simple, juvenile sentences. Whether it be mental fatigue, contradicting evidence (which I encountered is so common for a Taylor biographer), or my own insecurities about writing, my artistic energy once again fails to emerge.
I despair. As day falls to night, I toss and turn, frustration and anxiety standing near. Just a few hours after that great rush, I wonder if I’ll ever give Zachary Taylor the book I know he deserves.
A couple weeks ago, my AP Literature teacher, Mr. Armstrong, took a leave of absence from teaching. I wasn’t aware of it until a few hours before our final class together. Ataxia, a degenerative brain disease, has impaired Mr. Armstrong’s balance and coordination. In the age of COVID, teaching is a thankless job. With this health obstacle in the way, I admire how Mr. Armstrong handled everything with such ease and grace. It was necessary for him to get away and focus on his own well-being.
Once the emotional Zoom call ended, I websearched www.writeonfighton.org. A notepad background was transfixed behind a litany of links to blogposts from Mr. Armstrong throughout the years. The titles called out to me, and I started to get to know my former teacher in a way more transparent than the regular classroom experience might have allowed.
After devouring the most recent updates, I logged off and continued on with my day. But during a moment of boredom or relaxation, I found myself back online, craving a new article. Good blogs have a way of doing that - they’re easy reading, informative on specific topics, and gives its writer freedoms that are seldom found in longer texts. Someone once told me that blogs are the future in writing and communicating on historical subjects.
My vision cleared. The epiphany that had been right in front of me all along came into view.
Books require an arduous process of researching, developing, and editing, something I know all too well now. But blogs can be a factoid I pick up in an article from 1937, or a developing new perspective. Blogs can uncover my raw emotions and attitudes toward my research. Blogs can be a free avenue for expression, a practice tool from which my book can grow.
Most of all, a blog can help me achieve my ultimate mission: giving Zachary Taylor and his historic legacy a home.
So as I continue tossing and turning about this book, I plan to take some time and share the steps of my journey with you. As often as is prudent, I will post a new tidbit of knowledge I come across, or possibly even a passage from what I’m writing. Up front, I am warning the reader to expect less than perfection, especially early on. But I owe it to myself and to Zachary Taylor, if not the historical community, to begin to preserve his story as it hasn’t been before.
Whoever you are and wherever you come from, thank you. I hope you’ll stop by to hear from me again soon.
P.S. If you’re looking for great writing and maybe even a little motivation, check out www.writeonfighton.org. You won’t regret it.
P.S.S. Thank you Dan Weiss for the idea to name this series "Cherrypicking." Dan, you are a great friend and an amazing mind.