Ready for an inside look into my non-fiction creative process? Don’t laugh. I’ve spent decades trying one method and another, and this turned out to be the only thing that works for me.
First, of course, I read up on my subject. I highlight the bits that seem relevant.
Then I take notes on my readings by hand. No, copy-paste doesn’t work even when that option is available – it’s only in hand-copying the words a letter at a time does my brain really start to deeply process what it’s seeing. It forces me to slow down and think.
Next, I have to organize that mess o’ notes. Since they’re not electronic and I’m damned well not going to spend a bunch of time typing them, I color-code them with my huge collection of multi-colored pens. Glittery ink’s my favorite. As I read through the notes I’ve taken, I start underlining and barring sections based on whatever criteria start to stand out. In this case, I’m coloring by which layer of the surge deposit we’re dealing with, a description of it, its composition, and how it was emplaced. There’s more, but not on that particular page. (This is why the blast deposits are taking me so long. They’re complex.)
At the end, I have some very colorful pages, a color key, and an idea of how to sort things out. I can group the various colors into coherent themes. I can finally tell the story contained in all that academic scientific language.
Yes, it takes time. Probably more time than it should. Other writers probably have far more efficient ways of doing this stuff. But none of the “efficient” methods I’ve tried so far help me get to know the material intimately enough to compose with it. So it’s lots of ink and paper and time for me, and eventually, geological stories for you.
(Thankfully, I don’t have to use this process with creationist textbooks and Bible stories. Those are simple and quick. Fact-checking and laughing at awful mythology is much easier than trying to understand complicated science and boil it down to layman’s language without simplifying it into senselessness.)