This week marked the release of my debut novel The Greenest Branch, based on the true story of Germany’s first female physician. I won’t lie – it has been been a long and challenging road. I started in earnest in the summer of 2011, after spending several months researching the life of Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval era, and outlining the story (yes, I’m an obsessive outliner).
I wrote three drafts of the novel – the first two in 3rd person, and the final one in the 1st person, which ended up working so much better for me and for my critique partners. Told in Hildegard’s own voice, the story resonated immediately and deeply with all of us.
The first draft was bad; yet I kept writing. Perhaps that was because I saw it not as a stylistic failure (which it was) but as a way of getting the basic story down, despite the flowery prose and cringeworthy philosophical asides. So I moved on to the second draft.
Trimming the fat and streamlining the story was the goal, and it went well, if slowly (it took two years to complete). But it wasn’t until I was about half-way through it that I realized that this was publishable. I can’t remember what I had imagined I was writing it for before that, but somewhere around the fall of 2014 was when I realized that I had a novel here, and that I would do anything to make it see the light of day.
I probably would not have finished it if I had not felt passionately about the story and felt that it was needed to be told – there are so many historical novels that focus on famous women, but what we need to hear is stories of accomplished women from the past whose efforts contributed, if only in small ways, to the freedoms we enjoy today. Too few historical novels offer that, and I wanted The Greenest Branch to fill that void.
So the most important thing I have learned over the last 7 years is that you need to write what you love (not what you know, contrary to a popular writing advice out there. If that were the case, most historical fiction would never have been written).
Another thing I have learned is determination and persistence. I decided to write this book, and I did it, even though it took me a long time. You don’t have to write every day (another popular, but often anxiety-inducing, piece of advice), but write as often as you can. And avoid going for long periods without writing. I know someone who has been working on the same piece for the last 20 years, writing in short but intense spurts every year or two. I would not recommend that.
[Side note: a few weeks ago, I posted about the permission I gave myself in the fall of 2010 to write in the first place. Those two pieces of paper I wrote to myself set the whole process in motion. You can read about it here]
What’s next? After book two in the Hildegard of Bingen series (tentatively titled The Column of Burning Spices) is released in February 2019, I will be moving a bit closer in time – to Poland in the early 1500s. It will be a murder mystery set at the court of King Sigismund the Old and his Italian wife Queen Bona. Quite different in theme from The Greenest Branch, it will be similar in spirit, as it will shed light on the history of a part of Europe that is not getting a lot of attention from historical fiction novelists (one exception being The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, but as it is woven around the legend of Count Dracula, it still plays off of a famous historical figure).
So I hope you will join me on this journey by following my blog to keep abreast of my writing and the new releases. And if you have your own inspirational publishing stories, I would love to hear them.