Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A Pen Post

I’m feeling a heck of a lot better than I did last week. I’ve left the house a few times (more important, I felt the need for a shower. Though I still can’t smell myself, I couldn’t run the risk of anyone else smelling me), including going to my writer’s group yesterday. Physically, I’m feeling pretty good; mentally, I’m still not 100%.

You know it’s a  bad day when I write about my pen!

Yesterday was a ‘pen day’ for me in my writer’s group. I can’t remember if I’ve written about this phenomenon here before or not, and I can’t quite force myself through nearly 200 posts to find out. What’s a ‘pen day’, you ask? It’s a day where I spend 3/4 of our  free writing time struggling for an idea, or maybe there’s a hint of an idea that I can’t really catch hold of. The page is full of half-sentences and scribbles, and then, with a few minutes left, I start writing about…my pen. No, this is not a badly-disguised euphemism.

I’ve written at times about the sound my pen makes, I’ve written about what must be happening to the paper as the fine point rips across it, I’ve written about the way the pen feels in my hand. I’ve had a bunch of ‘pen days’ in my writer’s group, though not in a while. Yesterday I wrote about how I lost my pen. I’m very particular about pens, and I really like this particular type. I took it with me in the even I was moved to write while waiting for the Catbird to get done with a school function, but it never got where I was going. It wasn’t in my pocket or the car, it wasn’t in the house. My conclusion was it slipped off the cover of my notebook and was lost–forever.

Two days later, I saw a silver gleam in the mud when I was  backing my car out of the driveway. Yep, it was the pen, and yes, I had run it over. Possibly more than once. The barrel was in fragments, but the cartridge was intact. Fortunately for me, the Catbird is a notorious collector, and she had one of my expired pens saved up for…I don’t even know what. I performed a cartridge transplant, and still have a working pen.

Anyway, I wove this story of my pen around a story of the time, some fifteen(!) years ago, I ran over a pack of my wife’s cigarettes in a convenience store parking lot. The smokes, freshly bought, fell out of my pocket. I ran them over. The box was slightly dented, but the cigarettes survived.

The story made people laugh. It didn’t really get me anywhere. If I had started writing the pen story right away, however, I might have ended up with the basis of a new novel, a usable short story, a revision for an existing work, or maybe even a blog post. The point, though, is there’s always something to write about. We have limited time to write, and it can be maddening when the words don’t come out the way you want. If you’re stuck, write about your pen. Or your keyboard. Or the coffee stains on your shirt. Or your half-awake stumbling to the shower. Chances are good that the act of writing, even if it’s not what you want to be writing, will get you going enough. Yeah, I’ve definitely written this sort of stuff before, so my apologies if it feels like a rerun. I suppose it’s good to be reminded of it every once in a while, right?

Meanwhile, by now you’ve probably seen Amanda Palmer’s TED Talks appearance that’s taking the world by storm. I can’t connect all the dots today, my brain is too addled by illness and ideas, but I’ve certainly been thinking about it. Go watch it if you haven’t already, let it stew. Some day, maybe we’ll talk about it here.

And, finally, congrats to Carrie Butler, whose novel, Strength, debuts this week. Carrie will be here for an interview on 3/15. Looking forward to it! See you all soon.

12 Responses

  1. When I was in seventh grade (where I first learned I wanted to write) my English/Social Studies/History teacher (we had him for three periods!) would have us sit down for ten minutes and continuously write. He said we could write 'I'm so bored blue blue blue orange' for ten minutes if we wanted to, but we weren't allowed to take the pen off the paper. After awhile, you just… start writing. It was always really cool to experience. 🙂

  2. Yes, I, too, can write about damn near anything. If I can chat about, I can write about it. And you know what? Sometimes you need to write about just any old thing to get started. You write so beautifully, I bet you made the pen into a love story!

  3. I whole-heartedly agree. Sometimes it's a good way to "unglog pores". At my writer's group we were given insignificant objects and told to just write. Everybody without fail produced some great writing. It works!

  4. What a great idea–as long as I don't actually have to use a pen. I just don't write by hand anymore. Too painful.

  5. I've sometimes considered writing about something I can see – some every day object right in front of me – when I can't think of anything else to get myself going. The pen, I don't think I've considered before, but now that you mention it, I'll keep it in mind for next time. 'Cartridge transplant' sound really cool 🙂 Hope you'll feel 100% better soon, JeffO!

  6. Thanks, Nancy. No, there was no love story, nothing particularly beautiful, either. But it turned out better than expected.

  7. Sadly, there were no video crews on hand to document the groundbreaking cartridge transplant. And thanks, I'm pretty close to 100% now.

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