Two weeks ago I started a new novel and boy was I excited! I’d completed a couple of short stories, the way was clear and I was raring to go. This was a new idea. It was not the novel I’d been thinking of writing. It was very different but I discussed it with my writing buddy and my editor and was convinced and committed that this was the novel I would now write.
I began to think about it and to dwell in its possibilities, which I always find such a delicious place to be. I am all for a smorgasbord of appetisers. So, maybe it was the main course that derailed me, the thought of all that meat had me scared, because suddenly, inexplicably it seemed, I got cold feet.
So I have been asking myself why. And more generally, how we choose what it is we will write next. Choosing is important because I don’t like to abandon anything. It’s too easy and besides I’ve found that stories that feel like orphans often turn out to be our best. Choice matter, especially when a novel is involved because we’re talking a year or more of investment, not weeks or months as we might for a short story. We want to get it right and false starts are inevitable
So how could I be so enthused and then get cold feet? Quite simply, I discovered, I was scared. And I found myself admitting this today after coffee with a writing friend, just as I was leaving, I confessed.
I realised then, walking up the hill home that my old idea which had been calling me back, had the safety net of research – history, a short story already written, characters already fleshed out – wrapped around it. My new idea offered no such comforts.
The new idea is contemporary and involves heart and soul in a way the other does not. And I’ve no idea where it will lead. So a fear of the unknown surfaces, of being vulnerable, of not being good enough to pull it off, of it never being published and all those other fears that get in the way and stop us writing.
But there is an argument, of which I’m persuaded, that says we should write what scares us. It will open us up to the page. After all, what challenge is there in always dwelling in our comfort zone? To make progress we need to push our boundaries. And what point is there in writing the same book over?
So I know what I’m going to write and the story begins on the day Leonard Cohen dies, but I’m scared, so wish me luck…
‘Go for the jugular. If something scary comes up, go for it. That’s where the energy is . Otherwise you’ll spend all your time writing around whatever makes you nervous. It will probably be abstract, bland writing because you’re avoiding the truth. Hemingway said, ‘Write hard and clear about what hurts.’ Don’t avoid it. It has all the energy. Don’t worry, no one ever died of it. You might cry or laugh, but not die.