Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


It’s funny what happens sometimes when you read other people’s blogs. Earlier this week I was commenting on a post on Krista Van Dolzer’s blog and started thinking, “Hmm,  that can be a post”–and now it is. Whether it should be or not is another question.

Krista was writing about a feeling of “meh”  that has settled in after the high of holding her first published books. Instead of continuing on Cloud 9, all she can muster lately is “a feeling of ho-hum ambivalence.” Says Krista: “I’ve been letting the noise, both good and bad, get under my skin. Reviews have been coming in for the last couple of months, and if they haven’t been awful, they’ve just been all right. (And by “all right,” I mean they haven’t been starred.)”

On a certain level, Krista’s ambivalence is understandable. Life in general is a series of peaks and valleys. It’s almost impossible to live on a continual high (without chemical help, that is). A sugar high is followed by a sugar crash.What Krista is finding is what we all find at one time or another: that this really Great Thing we’ve been waiting for for so long doesn’t really change life a whole lot. Is it great to hold your first ever book? You bet. But you still have to get up and go to work in the morning. You still have to deal with THAT GUY at the office. The car still needs to be fixed. We want to believe that moments like this will change our lives forever, and they do–often, however, it’s not enough of an order of magnitude to impact our day-to-day life.

But I found myself wondering if there was something else behind Krista’s ennui, and I started to think of trees, of all things. At the end of the growing season, deciduous trees (the ones that lose their leaves each year) form what’s called an abscission layer at the border between leaf and twig. As the abscission layer expands, it pushes against the cells on the leaf-side of the border and releases chemicals that help break down the those cells. Eventually, the leaf falls off.

Writers live with their books for a long time. I don’t know how Krista works, but when I write, I’m pretty much on one project at a time, and I’m a slow writer. The story, the characters, the scenes, they’re with me for months, and even when I put something aside to let it ‘rest’ or let my betas have at it, I still often see things that could be different, could be better. “Oh, here’s a new scene I could add at the end of Chapter 12!” You know how it is. Revise, revise and revise, always revise.

Krista’s situation is different, however. Hard copies are printed. Her book is unchangeable. Soon it will be in bookstores and on websites where it can be downloaded to your e-reader immediately, or at your door in a day or two. It’s too late to change. No way to kill off or give birth to a character; no subplots to prune; no ability to put new words in someone’s mouth. And I wonder if her newfound indifference is less a function of reviews and letdowns and more a kind of authorial abscission, a way of hardening yourself to the past so that you can move on to the next one.

What do you all think? Have you experienced something along these lines? Have a great weekend, all!

9 Responses

  1. I've concluded that we're bipolar. I've heard a lo of authors lately complain about this feeling. Some of it really turns into the depths of despair and they're thinking of quitting writing. Every response I've heard tells about similar experiences.

  2. I'm not even published and I'm feeling this. I've spent five years writing the first two novels in what I saw as a trilogy. It's taken me months to shake off that world and those characters so I could work on something new. They've been hard months, emotionally, since they've also included a lot of indifference from agents as I query the other novels. Some days you do feel like quitting.

  3. I know all about the "all right" reviews (and the bad ones). And while they sting at first, I try to ignore them and just go back to my current project. I won't dwell on what I can't control. In fact, those reviews just make me want to get the next book out there sooner, so that maybe the audience I WROTE for will finally, FINALLY find my books. It takes time (and a lot of books) to make a living in this business. And I aim to make a living at it.

    Plus, it's just plain FUN to write. If it wasn't, I certainly wouldn't be doing it!

  4. That's very clever. I think it's natural to come down after the "sugar high," but I agree it's also necessary for a writer to fall out of love with one book in order to fall in love with a new one. Have a great week!

  5. When a book's out, that's great but you're no longer so intimately involved with it. No more pruning. You have to watch it grow or die and that's scary so I see how you might harden to it. Just got to get on with nurturing that new shoot. (I overdid your tree analogy now.)

  6. -Donna–Bipolar? I know I'm certainly love-hate with certain elements of my writing. Not to the point of quitting just yet, at least.

    -L.G.–It certainly isn't easy letting go, is it? I'm sorry you haven't gained more traction with agents just yet, but keep at it. It's a long game.

    -Stacy–That's the spirit! And most of us obviously don't have that "one book, instant sensation" thing happening. Hmm. I wonder if it's harder trying to build the audience or trying to keep the audience when you are that sort of an instant sensation? It's certainly a different sort of pressure.

    -Lexa–Thanks, I hope you have a great one, too. I don't know if it's necessary or not, but it's certainly easier to move on after it happens, I think.

    -Donna–Thank you. And I think that's one of the greatest benefits of this whole blogging thing, connecting with people who feel the same and are experiencing the same things.

    -Nick–You can never have too many tree analogies!

  7. I don't know. For me, the thrill hasn't worn off but you're right, the mundane still has to be attended to. You can't just sit around all day basking in the glow of having reached your goal. But for me, somewhere in the writing process I definitely reach this point of ambivalence. Sometimes it's early on in the process, other times it's late in the process. In general, letting the rest of the world can be like a torpedo. I try not to read any reviews while I'm doing a first draft. It's like Stephen King says, you have to write with the door closed. I have to do that first draft with the door closed or I'll never make it. It's usually somewhere in the late revisions or editing process when I feel like wow, I could give a crap about this thing that I just spent a year or more of my life on, lol. But I always power through and so far, it's been worth it. Interesting post!

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