I’m working hard at this NaNoWriMo-thing, but I’m finding more and more each day that I cannot simply purge my brain of material without regard to correctness. I want my writing to be all about quantity this month, but it’s impossible for me to focus if I’m unsure about the correctness of an historical detail in my book. Even if I choose to alter history (I do write fiction, after all) I must know the truth before I make my decision whether or not to use it.
For example, the other day I realized that the gun Hemingway used to kill sharks in March of 1935 was different than what I’d originally thought. This was important because of how the gun fired, and because of a later scene where he acquires the new gun. It took me an hour to research the matter, watch Youtube videos of people shooting the gun, and consult with a retired cop friend of mine who is a gun expert. The part doesn’t have enormous significance in the book, but I became obsessed with getting the details right, and to the detriment of my daily word count.
Yesterday’s tangent was in regards to Hemingway’s trip to Bimini in the Bahamas during the summer of 1935. I have five different books with accounts of the time spent on Bimini, and there are discrepancies in the accounts. There were also many people who visited the Hemingway’s, and I wanted to get them all straight in my head. Then I spent an hour looking at pictures of the island, watching travel segments about it, and reading history and local news. Since I can’t physically travel to Bimini at this time, I needed a clear picture of the setting before I could write the parts of the book set there. Thank God for the Internet.
Then I got sidetracked researching a minor character and true historical figure in the book. I wanted to see if there were any legal issues associated with using her name. I couldn’t find any, but I did find that her granddaughter is an editor at a major publishing house, and I wouldn’t want to piss her off by portraying her grandmother in an unfavorable light. So now, I’m debating whether to scrap her part altogether.
What all this boils down to is that I’m learning that for every step forward in historical fiction writing, there are two steps back. Sometimes the planets align and all the historical events line up as the writer needs them to, but more often, it’s about fitting a story into the messy, nonlinear, chaos of history. The notion of a timeline is almost laughable when you think of all of the twists and turns, diversions and cycles of time. Rather than a line, it should look like a tree with a complicated root and branch system that meet somewhere in the middle.
I will push on with NaNo, and I’m enjoying the habits I’m forming regarding my writing schedule. I’m gaining insight into my process that will serve me in the future, and learning when I can go on a tangent for an hour, and when I can slam the books shut and write.
Tonight, I write.