Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


IN Honor of the recent airing of the Dr. Who 50th Anniversary special, I’m going back in time. This is what I wrote Saturday morning, November 23 on the calendar for those keeping score at home. It was going to run on Monday, but I had a breakthrough shortly after putting these words to paper, recounted here. So here’s where I was at:

I’m in one of those funny spots.
My manuscript is sitting here in front of me, open to page 304. There are 68 printed pages left. I have about 600 words to will add in, something I think will make the ending a little more satisfying. The finish line is in sight. My goal: to start querying, with all the excitement, terror and disappointment that that brings. Also the anticipation and, maybe, relief as well.

And yet….On Thursday night, after chauffering the Catbird and her friend down to a movie, I had time: time to write, time to revise, time to make headway toward my goal of having the manuscript query ready by the end of the month—and I got nothing done. Nada. Zilch. And I came home last night and thought, “It’s Friday, Friday (sing it, everyone); no Saturday morning obligations, I can stay up all night, I can work on this, I can finish it by the end of the weekend.” Instead, we caught up on Revolution (I don’t know if you watch this show or not, but I’m enjoying this season more than last. Last season, there was just a little too much ‘let’s travel incredible distances on foot and somehow make it there before the seasons change’ happening. This season has our heroes mostly concentrated in one place, and I think that’s to the benefit of the program’s believability quotient. But anyway…), and then we watched a couple of episodes of Malcolm inthe Middle, which for my money is still one of the funniest TV shows ever, and I went to bed without working on the manuscript at all. And here I am at 8 AM on Saturday, with no obligations, and I’m writing a blog post. What’s the deal?
Well, I know two deals. One, the section I’m working on is a problem. I’m at the end of Chapter 21, though on my last read through I noted that it probably should be its own chapter. The section needs to be in the book, yet I started retyping the opening paragraph half-a-dozen times, and it just feels—wrong. I can’t put my finger on it. And trying to rework it gave me that itchy feeling inside my head and made me agitated, so I decided to skip it and go watch TV instead. Oh, wait, I actually worked on the query a little bit, but that made my head even worse.
I’ve been here before, and I think my probem is I’m afraid of is the next step. I like this manuscript. I like the story, I like the characters, and I think it’s got potential to sell. But I know that part of the problem is with that potential. Potential. It’s like a rock poised at the top of a hill. Potential. Once I release this thing, once I get the query letter written, once I push the rock at the top of the hill, it no longer has potential. It’s going to roll down the hill. It’s going to smash into things and run over things, but eventually it’s going to come to rest somewhere. It could be in the middle of someone’s living room or backyard. Or it could come to rest in a field somewhere, unnoticed. Or it could roll into a lake and sink to the bottom. It’s a scary place to be, and I know many of you have been there. As long as I keep the manuscript at the top of the hill, it’s got potential. It can be a bestseller. It can be a blockbuster. It can be the next Twilight, I can be the next Stephen King. Once it starts rolling, however….

HEY, TIME JUMP, it’s now Friday morning, November 29, and I realize something: the idea I just expressed in those last couple of lines is bullshit. As long as my manuscript is sitting on my hard drive it’s nothing more than a collection of words. It actually CAN’T be the next Twilight, and I can’t be the next Stephen King unless I put my words out there. It’s a bestseller in my mind only. I want it to be a bestseller, so it’s going to have to get out there. Even then, the chances of it being a bestseller are slim, but I’d rather have the reality than the fantasy.

Have a great weekend, all.

16 Responses

  1. Hey Jeff… you are elegantly expressing the angst of writers everywhere.

    Of course, you already have the answer, but I will underscore it here in the spirit of one of your earlier posts: "It's time to push that motherfuckin' rock off that motherfuckin' hill." 🙂

  2. Too true, my friend! An author I know, who had been seeking traditional publication for her western books faced a nearly fatal illness about three years ago. It was her wakeup call. The idea that she could die with all her books still sitting on her computer was unacceptable. She decided to go the indie route and has been doing fabulously well. Award-winning well.

  3. I often feel I'm not getting anywhere, but I'd never have gotten published if it wasn't for the support of my CPs. After a year, I was fixated on my novel's imperfections, but my CPs convinced me to start querying. Maybe you need some people you trust to push you. Good luck! 🙂

  4. And this just illustrates how crazy writers are. Because I go through this same emotional swing every time I finish a project. I'm at the end of my current manuscript too, and I'm stalling!! Apparently I'm trying to hold off the inevitable pain of rejection. Blah. Good luck with your manuscript, though. Get it out there, get beat up, and then embrace the good news when it finally happens. My friend just got an agent after eighty rejections, so hang in there. :))

  5. And I should add, that it's not excellent that she suffered a nearly fatal illness, but that she's found such great success as an indie.

  6. Thanks, Lexa. I know it's time to start querying. Now I'm trying to make sure my query is good enough, hah hah. That should only take another 2, 3 years (not).

  7. We are a crazy bunch, aren't we? I guess we're in that "This is really good—what if we're wrong?" stage! I'm just hoping for less 'beat up' and more 'good news' this time around. Thanks!

  8. The 68 pages are done. They were done when I posted on Monday. I'm doing one more quick pass to tighten up the front end of the MS and I'm polishing the query. And then…..

  9. I've come up with a million excuse as to why I can't continue to seek publication for a sort of true fiction novel I've written, from I didn't work hard enough on it, to it's too personal. The fact is I have already gotten two rejections and I am a scared little puss who has had too much ego stroking in her young writer years who expects instant success. I am weak. And reading this post…I'm still weak. But I think I'm going to dust it off and query some more. Thanks. I needed this today….

  10. Tiffany–thanks for coming by and sharing. Each rejection should make you a little stronger than the last, though sometimes they can sort of pile up on your back and weigh you down. Use the rejections as fuel for your determination, and you will get stronger. Good luck and come back anytime.

  11. Thanks, Stacy. I'm also considering putting it up on AW's Query Letter Hell–they're pretty merciless over there, but typically right on the mark, too.

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