Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fighting Fear

Before you read today's post, be sure to check out JoAnn's interview with Donna Gephart last Friday. You'll want to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Donna's acclaimed (and funny!) novel, How to Survive Middle School. Entry deadline is Friday.

On Monday, Mary Ann kicked off a new TeachingAuthors topic: Writing Fears. This topic struck a particularly strong chord in me because my current work-in-progress has instilled more fears than any other writing project I've tackled. I hope that by sharing a few of my fears, and how I combated then, I can help some of you struggling with similar issues. 

I've blogged about my current work-in-progress (WIP) before: it's a young adult novel set in 18th-century Milan, inspired by the lives of two women of that time and place. When I decided to tackle this topic, my greatest fear was What if I'm no good at writing historical fiction? While young readers consider my novel Rosa, Sola historical (it's set in the 1970s), I don't. After all, I lived through and can recall much from that era. But the 1730s? Could I really do justice to a novel set over 200 years before I was born, and in a city I've only briefly visited? I was determined to at least try.

I fought my fear by educating myself in the genre. To do so:
  • I read books on writing historical fiction, such as The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom and Writing Historical Fiction by Rhona Martin. And even though my novel isn't a mystery, I read How to Writer Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson.
  • I also read and studied all sorts of historical fiction written for adults and teens. I tried to focus on books set in the same time and place as my novel. That turned out to be more challenging than I expected. I have yet to find any set in 18th-century Milan. (If you know of any, do let me know!) So I branched out to books set close to that time period, not only in Italy, but also France and Germany. The YA titles I read included The Vanishing Point by Louise Hawes, Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins, In Mozart's Shadow by Carolyn Meyer and The Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap.
  • I joined the Historical Novel Society's Yahoo group for readers and writers of historical fiction. Thanks to that list, I learned that the society's North American conference was being held in Schaumburg, Illinois in 2009. (Yes, that's right, it was in June, 2009. Over two years ago! I feel as though I've been working on this novel forever.) I attended that conference. What an experience! I learned from and was inspired by several highly acclaimed historical writers.
These activities helped calm the worry "What if I'm no good at writing historical fiction?" But at the same time, a new fear cropped up: "What if I don't get the details right?" I feel a great sense of responsibility writing historical fiction: I want to paint an authentic picture of what life was like in that time and place. To quell that fear, I felt I had to Research, Research, Research! This included:
  • Researching the lives of the two women who inspired the novel 
  • Reading history books describing their life and times
  • Reading primary documents from the time period. (Not easy to do with my rudimentary knowledge of Italian!)
  • Researching specific aspects of daily life, such as food, clothing, and social customs
  • Contacting subject matter experts regarding questions I couldn't find answers to elsewhere
Through this research I found an account of an intriguing event that happened in Milan in 1739 that I ended up including as a scene in my novel. That was quite exciting! However, the research was also a great form of procrastination. That created a new fear: "Would I ever finish the novel?" This past June, I blogged about how I overcame that fear with the help of my "Writing Buddy."

These tactics actually worked. Those of you who are my Facebook friends know that I've been working on the final revisions to my WIP. As of today, I consider the draft done! I plan to print it out and set it aside for a bit. After a final read-through, I'll start submitting it. Then I'll have to face two more fears that have haunted me through this entire project: "What if no one wants to publish it?" "What if I've invested all this time and energy for nothing?" The only way I know to address these fears is to send the manuscript out and then turn around and start the next project. Wish me luck!

The other TeachingAuthors will continue to address this topic in upcoming posts. What about you? What are some of your writing fears? How do you fight them?

Happy Writing!


Megg Jensen said...

This is fantastic news and big congratulations are in order!!! I wish you great success while submitting. :)))

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Megg!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Carmela--YIPPEE and Huzzah!!!! I'm jumping up and down for you finishing the draft of your novel!