If someone had ever said to me in my 20s that my first novel would be a piece of historical fiction, I would have given them the hand wave that says, “You’re crazy.”
But here I am, so you just never know where life is going to take you. It’s sort of not a surprise that I’ve taken on such research-heavy work. I always liked school. That’s not to say I excelled at it, but I did like to learn new things (and still do). But history? Yawn. All I remember of high school history class is trying to remember dates and events so I wouldn’t fail.
Today I’m devouring article and books about everything from how white people were captured by Indians and survived to women’s tips and tricks for keeping a house running in the 1790s. I have to admit, I am fascinated by all of it.
Can you imagine people doing today what their ancestors did 200 years ago just to get through the day? The work was brutally hard and constant for most men and women, and it was dangerous, too, in what was then mostly wilderness. Doing the research about that time is like reading a page-turner that you don’t want to end.
And therein lies the problem.
I pour over one book or article to learn something so I can write realistically about it, which leads to another book or article, and then another. I have a bloated string-tie envelope that contains years of research, and I keep adding to it. I’ve also helped in my small way to keep Amazon in business by buying way too many books. And then there are the folders of electronic documents on my laptop.
Research can be a never-ending process, but it also can become a way to procrastinate. At some point you have to stop learning and start writing. What you envision in your mind as the perfect story will finally need to come out onto the computer screen where all its flaws and weaknesses are exposed.
It took me a long time to get over this–to end my quest to “know” everything possible to create the perfect historical fiction book–and to begin, to find the courage to write. While I know I’m a research nerd at heart, I also know now that the real learning is in the doing, the writing. It sounds so simple. In truth, it’s really hard.
It’s taking patience, discipline, and consistency. It’s taking strength to resist the temptation to default to what’s easy and free of risk. Becoming an author has been a life-long dream of mine, though, and I’m not giving up on it. It’s the last chapter of my writing career, and I’m finally writing for me. The research is there if I need it. It’s time to do the real work.