The Evolution of a Writer, Historical Fiction Edition

I wrote a book. Two, actually. Both historical fiction. Hopefully with more to come.

Research is the key to historical fiction

I consider research to be my superpower. We all have a superpower. It’s usually something you are good at, but also something you like to do. Did I love to research first or did my interest in investigation prod my research abilities into being? I don’t know. All I know is that I love to do research, and I am weirdly good at it.

When I was a kid, there was no internet. In my Montessori school we had a complete set of encyclopedias, which I loved. I was drawn to history, geography, and languages. I clearly remember taking the Austria puzzle piece from the world map, tracing it on graph paper, and then drawing graph lines on a poster board to create a scale drawing. Then I read everything I could and wrote a report on the country. Why Austria? Why not? I was ten and knew nothing about it. I think I liked its shape.

I majored in history at university because I could spend all of my time drinking up historical research like it was life’s water. Two graduate degrees, in political science and international relations, put me on a career path of politics and policy work. I believe a foundation in history and research is more essential than ever in our current political environment. History teaches us critical thinking and gives us a perspective. Research lets us investigate claims of politicians and news outlets, and that critical thinking helps us discern which sources are reliable sources.

Real life rears its ugly head

I did a lot of creative writing when I was younger, but university and work afterwards ended that. I wrote. A lot. But not creative writing. I did research and wrote white papers, policy analyses, legislative testimony, blog posts, all factual, sometimes persuasive, occasionally with a creative spin, but never fully engaging that part of my brain.

I wanted to write a book. I thought, because of my work, I would write a non-fiction book. I started the research, but it didn’t hold my interest. History and historical fiction are my go-to for reading. If I was going to devote my energy and passion to writing something, I wanted it to be something I wanted to read, and I wanted to create.

In 2018, I set a five-year goal to write a book. I started jotting down ideas. Then in September, a friend said she was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I had never heard of it, having been neck-deep in the non-fiction world for so long. For the month of November, participants pledge to write 50,000 words of a novel (or play or series of short stories, or whatever you want). You “win” if you meet that goal. The stakes are low, the only pressure is what you place on yourself.

I agreed to it on the spot. Once committed, I meant it. I took one of those scribbled ideas and outlined it. I got some writing software, plugged in my outline, and come November 1st, I started.

From outline to first draft

I hit my 50,000 word mark by Thanksgiving and kept going. I wrote every day until the second of February. Even Christmas Day (only about 200 words). So, in three months, I had a first draft. A massive and messy first draft. It clocked in at 182,000 words. For context, most novels are in the 80-120,000-word range. After a first run at edits, I cut 20,000 words, but it was still huge. I spent the next year researching (it’s historical fiction, so there is a lot of research involved) and trimming and honing.

Then November 2019 rolled around and I had another idea. I finished the first draft on the 14th. I was into it. Now, it’s almost March, and it’s gone through six rounds of edits, two beta readers, and I’m waiting to hear from four more beta readers. Once you relight the creative spark, it’s harder to put it out. I would love to hear what you’ve done to light your creative spark. Please leave a comment below!

Published by katezerrenner

I write non-fiction environmental work, mainly climate change, energy, and water, with a heavy focus on policy. I also write historical fiction. In addition to writing, I work as a policy advisor at the State of Texas. Previously, I spent over a decade at Environmental Defense Fund, where I led EDF’s multi-year campaign to influence and enact state and national energy and water efficiency policy. I led the state legislative team, testifying before the US Congress and Texas Legislature. Prior to joining EDF, I worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office analyzing U.S. action on climate change and the voluntary carbon offset market; SAIC, on climate change projects for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and U.S. Department of Energy. I have a Master’s degree in International Energy and Environmental Policy and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, a Master’s in Comparative Politics from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and a Bachelor’s degree in European History from the University of Texas

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