The blinking cursor on a blank computer screen terrifies me.
I’m about to start writing a new novel. I’ve got ideas, but I’m doubting and second-guessing and questioning myself as to whether I can do this or not. My first completed novel is in fairly good shape (I’ll start querying agents soon) so I’m ready to move on to novel #2. Only there’s part of me that’s not ready and wonders if I’ll ever be ready.
Look at Harper Lee, who published only one book. Years ago, I found an extremely old encyclopedia article claiming that she was writing a second novel. Who knows if she ever finished it? Did she feel like me, wondering if she had another book inside her soul? Was she scared that book #2 would flop after To Kill a Mockingbird? Did she sit there and stare at the blank piece of paper in her typewritten and feel paralysis creep through her fingers?
This happens to me each time I start a new story—a new term paper—a new blog post. Sometimes I’ve actually closed my eyes and typed that first sentence, simply so I wouldn’t have to look at the completely blank screen and the pitifully inadequate first words on the screen.
Yes, that’s strange. Yes, it can help overcome a blinking-cursor-induced paralysis, a.k.a., writer’s block.
But it’s not working today.
To make matters worse, several readers have mentioned the prevailing sadness in my novel. Some have commented on how depressing it is. (Don’t believe me? Go read the description of it on my page “My Work.”)
And therein lies the issue for novel number two. This topic is serious and heavy, too. I’m not intentionally choosing sad or depressing topics, but those are the ideas I come up with, the ones that I feel compelled to write.
- Every story I’ve written, save one, had a death in it.
- As a teen, I willingly read gobs of material about the Holocaust.
- As a grad student, I wrote my thesis on “Annihilation in Moby-Dick”.
So asking me to write something more upbeat, as one of my readers did, is like asking Edgar Allan Poe to turn “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Raven” into a Saturday Night Live skit. He’d have to overdose on Prozac. Can you imagine Tina Fey & company in a skit like that?
Blame the serotonin deficiency in my brain but I can’t see even Tina being able to pull off that one.
A couple of weeks ago, I started what I thought would be a humorous short story. Several paragraphs in, I realized that this was definitely not the Don Quixote-style story I meant to write, but a story of a woman who has abandoned her child. Oops. My only consolation is that she does go home to her son with the help of a delusional man who believes he really is a knight in shining armor. So maybe I got my Don Quixote in there.
So the questions pressing on me now are these:
- Do I get out of my comfort zone of sad topics and try something more upbeat for my next novel?
- If I do that, will I be “untrue” to myself?
- And what on earth would “upbeat” look like?
And here’s two questions for my readers:
- If you’re naturally drawn to more serious subjects in your reading material, TV show choices, thoughts, do you sometimes force yourself to think about less-heavy topics?
- If you’re naturally drawn to more upbeat, cheerful topics, do you ever try to think about the darker side of life?