Mixing It Up: Why I Write On Very Different Subjects
This morning I watched Christiane Amanpour interview two time Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Colson Whitehead. His new novel, Harlem Shuffle, is a crime novel, which is a huge break from his very powerful two previous books that dealt with very dark subjects, including racism and slavery. She asked him about his experiences of going to dark places as a writer.
His answer helped me understand something important to know as a writer. He wrote two tough stories in a row, five years of writing on subjects that required delving into the history of his race in America. He was lauded for these books but personally went into a period of depression afterward. His new book is a much lighter romp and he said he needed to lighten up.
I’ve been writing about politics a lot lately because I fear for where we are going as a country right now. These pieces have resonated with readers more than anything I have written here, which is gratifying as most readers seem to share my concerns about division, climate issues, Congress, etc. But I can’t write these articles every day. They come out of feeling the need to do something, anything. Frustration in other words.
But I can’t be angry and frustrated all the time. None of us can, though certain politicians on the right seem to be reveling in it. I don’t need to name names because we are all hearing their shit constantly. But that doesn’t work for me. I can’t rant every day and if I did, it would get tired.
So, I also write about writing, personal growth, travel, and other lighter topics. I think this is an important message to many of the writers here that keep writing variations on the same article. This is not, in my experience, a long term way to build a base of readers. Why?
Because once they have read one or two, they get that you don’t have range or experience and they move on. It’s called having a gimmick, a tired act. Writing is about ideas, not money. In my experience it is actually ideas that lead to money. My ideas get tired when I keep trying the same type of work.
The interview with Whitehead gave me a light bulb moment regarding my own fiction. My first novel was basically a magic realist…