The Terror of the Blinking Cursor

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?

6 thoughts on “The Terror of the Blinking Cursor

  1. A serious topic does not necessarily mean it has to be depressing…just look at Jodi Picoult, nothing but serious, depressing topics there, and yet they make you thoughtful rather than put you down.

    Or rather that was my experience. My mother burned the book after reading My Sister’s Keeper – said she couldn’t bear to see it again, not without bursting into tears at any rate.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing. A certain element of catharsis is present in all stories, is, in fact, often the one factor that makes people love a book. Or hate it. Either way, you’ve made your mark, touched your readers in such a way that they need to comment on it (even if they say it’s depressing). I don’t think there’s anything worse than this for an author:

    Reader A: Did you read xyz by that author?
    Reader B: What? Oh, yea, I think so. I think it was ok, but I’m not sure. Read it a long time ago.

    (this being a conversation I listened to in the coffee shop the other day, thankfully not about an author I know)

    I think I’d rather have them remember my work as depressing… but maybe that’s just me.

    I’ve read that story you got published in the Rose&Thorn, and yes, it was serious, it was fairly heavy emotionally speaking, but you didn’t let me down as a reader. At the end of the story I came away feeling strangely lighter than before – like I said, catharsis.

    I guess it’s not for everybody, but you have my vote of confidence, if that helps.



    1. Tessa,
      Thanks a bunch for your thoughts. I have read a lot of Jodi PIccoult’s books, and I agree: her books are serious, heavy issue-driven stories that make you think. That’s kind of what I aim for in my own writing. I hope the readers walk away with renewed hope and new thoughts to think!

      And,oh, that poor writer that was being talked about in the coffee shop. I heard a saying once: Love me or hate me, just don’t ignore me! Anything other than being ignored! Unfortunately, most books I’ve read are forgettable. Sad but true.

      Thanks again for reading my story. That’s very encouraging to me!


  2. Forgot the most important part in my soliloquy (sorry it got that long btw):

    Stay true to yourself – that’s always the best way to go, because you can never please everybody, anyway. Might aswell please yourself.


    1. I completely agree with Tessa. The way I was going to put it was: Write what moves you, because if it moves you, I can pretty much guarantee that it will move others.

      Note also that one can be “moved” in a lot of different ways.


      1. Thanks, Kristan. I’ve got several responses on here, Facebook and elsewhere, confirming that I do need to write what moves me. I don’t see how I can do otherwise, at this point. BTW, I’ve actually started novel #2, and it is what I really wanted to write about back before I had my momentary “cursor crisis”.


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