Okay. This is a fun one.
Admittedly, it’s the nerdy kind of fun. We’re not talking about “cool” stuff like going out dancing with your friends or having a movie night or going celebrity spotting.
Then again, if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re writing historical nonfiction.
And if you’re writing historical nonfiction, it's probably because you’re into the nerdy kind of fun anyway.
In my humble opinion, the nerdy kind of fun can be the best form. It means absolute adventure, even if only of the mental variety. It means discovery!
Marcel Proust, the famous 20th century novelist, essayist and critic, once said that, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
At least that’s what GoodReads claims he says. I’m never sure whether to trust those sources or not.
But the quote itself seems pretty solid. While I love “seeking new landscapes” and haven’t done so in far too long, a landscape is only as worthwhile as the eyes that see it.
And the same is true of reading or writing historical nonfiction.
Be open to learning.
If you’re writing historical nonfiction, you’re no doubt a historical junky. Also more than likely, you’re especially interested in one particular point in history: the reign of the czars in Russia, the Middle East-centered Ottomon Empire, the Zhao Dynasty in China...
Whatever it is, don’t go into it thinking you’re already an absolute expert. Be open to learning! Get excited about the adventure before you, complete with opportunities for jaw-dropping revelations and “No way!” moments. Basically, get ready to have fun...
I can say this without ever writing historical nonfiction. Which I haven’t, though I have been historical nonfiction writers’ content editor before. And I’ve certainly read my fair share of it.
But it’s actually my experience writing historical fiction that has me so absolutely certain of Innovative Editing’s Writing Challenge above.
Going into my research of Maiden America, I did, in fact, think myself an absolute expert already. It was silly and arrogant. No question about it.
But at least I wasn’t so silly and arrogant to maintain that opinion as I poured over tons of information that most definitely had me saying “No way!” before diving right back into the adventures opened up in front of me.
Otherwise, I would have missed out on so many fascinating revelations like how:
King George wasn’t over in England, sitting on his throne while chortling maniacally about all the ways he could further enslave his American subjects. He was probably a decent enough individual who just couldn’t stop thinking himself an absolute expert on proper colonial behavior.
While there was a distinctive American mindset and a distinctive British mindset in 1776, the oh-so-American icon General George Washington went by the royal-sounding title of “His Excellency,” showing just how very British the Americans still were.
While far too many British officers and British soldiers acted appallingly toward the Americans, the Americans weren’t always the most genteel lot themselves. Sometimes, in fact – such as in the case of the so-called Boston Massacre – they were downright jerks.
So that’s why I say not to go into writing historical nonfiction thinking you’re already an absolute expert. Because when you do, you’re at serious risk of gypping yourself out of mental amounts of adventure, growth and downright fun.