Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Time to Turn the Radio Back On

There was a time when, upon entering the car, the first thing I’d do is to turn the radio on. Or the tape deck. Or the CD player. What I chose to listen to depended very much on where I was and what I was doing. When I get within range of New York City, I find myself listening way too much to sports radio–there’s something about those Sopranos-esque accents on “Joey from Brooklyn” and “Mikey from Bayonne” as they call in to vent their frustrations with the Mets, Yankees, Knicks, Jets and Giants (and, once in a while, the Rangers, but hockey doesn’t get a lot of air time on this particular station until the playoffs, and then it’s Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, never mind the other two NHL teams in the immediate area). Even half the air staff sound like they were hired right off a street corner in Astoria. Must be some kind of nostalgia thing.

Where I live now in central New York, we don’t have the kind of flexibility in radio stations that I had when living downstate. It’s a choice of two classic rock stations (one is kind of hard-edged, one is softer), one alternative station (not my kind of music, mostly), two that are labeled “today’s best hits,” and NPR. Yeah, there’s also a couple of country stations and one Christian station. The lack of choices (and I realize having at least 6 viable choices is not bad, but not compared to what I used to have available) is compounded by the fact that some of these stations are located kind of far away, and reception in the hilly region is spotty. Even the stations that broadcast from right in my county can fade in and out depending on the weather and where I happen to be.

Lately, I’ve come to make the 20-minute drive to and from work in silence. No radio, no CD player, just me. “Silence,” however, is not the right word for it, because there’s a lot of noise–it’s just coming from inside my skull. (at this point I should say to any of my non-writer friends, family or readers that it is nothing to be concerned about. Really.)

This is normally a great thing for me, particularly when I’m in the midst of writing. I drive, I think. I think about whatever project I’m working on at the time, seeing/hearing/reading (not quite sure which it is; possibly a combination of all three) scenes in my head, kind of setting the stage for my next writing session. When this sort of imagining/work is going on in my brain, I don’t notice the lack of music or background chatter. I don’t miss it, either; there are too many interesting things going on upstairs to really notice (also note: don’t worry, I am still paying attention to what’s happening on the road in front of, alongside, and behind me). When I’m really going, I don’t need it.

But now, maybe I need it. Until Carrie comes back with a response to my latest project, I need to be working on something else. Back in December I mentioned that I just might be onto THE NEXT BIG IDEA. This weekend, after working on a contest entry, I played around a bit with this idea, trying to write my way into it. So far, it hasn’t happened. I’ve got the germ, the basis, but I need something else, that missing ingredient, that catalyst that will cause it to really grow and take on life–and for that, perhaps I need the radio.

One of the earliest projects I started writing (but never finished; I wasn’t quite serious enough at the time, I guess) came about after hearing a story on NPR about the rise in hate groups that started early in President Obama’s first term in office. I’d had something vaguely kicking around in The Back Room, and when I heard this story, BOOM, there it was. So, yes, it’s time to turn on the radio again. You never know when lightning will strike.

Just over a year ago, I posted a video featuring Lake Street Dive, a neat little band I had seen or heard on NPR. I liked them! I just found out they’ll be playing in our area this summer, with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings–nice double-bill. I’ll have to see about tickets. Here’s Call Off Your Dogs. Enjoy!

7 Responses

  1. I can't drive without music on. I even need the music on to think about my stories. Of course, I don't think I'm as good as you when it comes to thinking and driving. One time I missed my exit. I'm surprised I didn't drive myself all the way to Cincinnati! 🙂

  2. I'm with Stacy – I need that music! We ended up buying satellite radio because of the amount of ads on regular radio up here. So annoying!
    Good luck getting that new idea to coalesce!

  3. I got a book idea after 9/11 back when I was a teen. Still have the chapters I wrote and intend to go back to it one day. Must say it was one of my best ideas and more mature than what I write these days. Ironic, no? I can't write with music on it's too distracting. So I can see getting ideas in the silence Jeff.

  4. I've always got music on in the car but I can't listen to it while actually writing. You never know what you might pick up, I heard a fact I'd never known as part of a radio quiz – it stuck with me and a year later I wrote a fun, quirky story that I'm submitting. Hope your ideas come together!

  5. It's funny how different we all are in terms of what we can and can't write to. Music is mostly okay for me, but I can't listen to the TV or movies or anything with dialogue while I'm writing. Thanks, all, for the comments.

  6. I totally know that "I've got the germ but need another idea to make it click" feeling. I usually get the plot first and come up with the unusual "human" aspect later. NPR is a good idea if it worked for you before. Maybe an oldie station would be good too, connecting you to nostalgic feelings or the universal human experience. Good luck!! (I'm in the middle of a new WIP set in Alaska, but my next one will take place in New England, and have to do with reclaimed wetland. You may eventually get an email, since you seem to have a good background in ecological things.)

  7. You really like to vary your landscapes, don't you, Lexa? And if you have any questions, send them along, I'm happy to help if I can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for Updates

For announcements, alerts and special offers, subscribe to our emails.  Please note, you will have to confirm your subscription through an email to the address you provide.

Follow Jeff O'Handley

Jeff O'Handley ©2024 - All Rights Reserved.