Among the many titles I like to give myself (quietly and mostly when thinking to myself) is “historian.” History has been a passion of mine for my entire life. As a kid I would create projects that focused on history. Throughout school, if I were given the chance, I would turn my assignments towards historical topics. I read historical-fiction, and historical non-fiction like mad. I ended up with a BA in history, and an MA in religion — with a thesis focused on a historical figure. And I have now been accepted in another graduate program, where I will pursue an MA in History (starting this fall). I dream that, someday, I’ll have a Doctorate in History, that I’ll work in a museum or as a history professor, or perhaps a historical consultant or… the possibilities seem nearly endless.
I have driven my family crazy with requests to pull over for every roadside “this event happened here” sign that I could find, and have structured entire vacations around historical topics. Sure, I have my favorite eras, locations and people, but to be honest I have yet to find a historical person, place, or thing, that I haven’t been happy to explore.
And I love to research. To find more resources that I can use, more information. I peruse bibliographies for fun, and love detailed footnotes that lead me to all sorts of other, passingly related, topics. I have the ability to lose hours wandering through the internet, or library, or whatever resource may be on hand, gathering links, or titles, or anything else to “look into later.”
But I have this fear that has kept me from writing historical fiction. Even though there are some stories that I think may belong as historical fiction, and others that I would like to write, I find myself stalling out in the face of the possibility that I will get it wrong. That I will not be able to rid myself of modern slang and modern sensibilities enough to write a character and scenario that is realistic. That I will make a mistake and, gasp, someone will call me on it.
It’s horrifying. Seriously.
And I know that I have to get past this block if I want to write historical fiction. I have to be willing to make mistakes – and trust that I can ask other researchers to help check my work. I’m doing that for a number of projects. I’ve been asking a friend who actually knows about sword-fighting to help me with research/resources so I can write a more realistic sword-fighting scene in my fantasy novel (not that it would be hard to get better than the current text: “she watched as he [does something that makes it clear that he’s no good at sword fighting, yup]…”), for example.
And perhaps this is reflective of a larger fear. I hate to say it’s a fear of being wrong (because I know that I am wrong at times, just how often probably depends highly on who you ask), but perhaps a fear of being unable to capture a sense of true authenticity. I would hate to pour so much time and energy into something and then have it pulled apart because the facts didn’t add up. I worry about this enough when I am writing in a fantasy world and dealing with something I don’t know a lot about (like earlier-mentioned sword fighting, or farming, or royal court etiquette). And in fantasy stories I can always have an escape-route… argue that this is the way it works in this land.
But in history, I can’t do that. What happens if I include some turn-of-phrase that wouldn’t have been in use? Or have someone referring to something that hadn’t happened yet? Or I just can’t stay true to the historical sensibilities?
And how do I go about overcoming this fear? That is the real question. How do I find a way to be willing to make mistakes, to trust that my editing process (and my research) will help me keep from making (at least glaring) errors? And how do I let go of the sense of needing to be right and not making a mistake?
This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group -- I am very much looking forward to being a part of this community!