Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


Not long ago, I was cruising. I had submitted a new round of revisions to Agent Carrie on the RiP; not only was I making substantial headway on the WiP, I was actually liking it, too; and I was reading what felt like a ton of books. And then…

Another round of suggestions has come back on the RiP, and while I’ve read them, I’ve done nothing more than think about them a bit. And the WiP has grown by maybe three paragraphs in the last three weeks for sure, with maybe another page of noodlings in a separate document. As for reading? I’ve got two books finished, and one of them was started in 2016. It’s safe to say my productivity has fallen off a cliff.

I can point to a couple of things: one, the Boston Bruins have played more games than any team in the National Hockey League thus far (actually, some teams caught up to them last night), and I’ve watched far too many of them. Second, my wife got me Grand Theft Auto IV for Christmas–a guilty pleasure if there ever was one–and I have been allowing myself to slip away into the violent world of Liberty City way too often. It’s interesting that, despite watching a fair amount of TV during the fall and early part of the winter–catching up on shows like The Walking Dead, The OA (I heartily recommend that one, by the way), and Shameless, I was still more productive than I am right now. TV is a great time sink, no doubt, but episodes have a definite end point. Hockey games do, too, but it’s two, two-and-a-half hours. And video games? The problem with open worlds like the GTA series is that you can explore endlessly–plus there are all the annoying side characters who want you to go bowling or boating or playing darts with them. The game designers have done a good job at making sure you stay at your computer.

These are excuses, though. Back when I was on Absolute Write all the time, it was not unusual to see (mostly new) writers start threads with titles like “How do you stay motivated?” The answer I always gave there–and have probably written on this blog, and maybe as comments on some of YOUR blogs–was pretty much always the same: “I want my work to be published. And for that to happen, I have to finish what I start.” Looks a little smug, doesn’t it? I hope no one took it that way, because I certainly didn’t mean it that way. Anyway, it was true then, and it’s true now. The only way we will ever get anything published is to finish it. And that means curtailing the distractions and getting back on task. For me, that means cutting back the hockey games (easy enough this week: the Bruins have five days off as part of a new league directive. When all the teams have caught up to them in terms of games played, I suspect the Bs will be out of a playoff spot and will not be able to get back in); it means cutting back on GTA IV; it means re-reading the RiP and putting my brain back to it, and re-dedicating myself to my work, and maybe taking advantage of that time to get a little distance from the WiP.

There’s one other distraction looming here, however: the current state of America. As I mentioned, I was able to balance hockey and TV and other things with my writing back last fall, probably all the way up through Christmas and shortly thereafter. There’s no doubt in my mind, however, that my productivity went off the cliff about three, four weeks ago, in the final run-up to Donald Trump taking the oath of office. Hockey, TV, video games have become a necessary distraction, an escape from the nightmare reality TV show we find ourselves in right now. I’m not hiding from reality, but I am taking much-needed refuge from it. This week, one of the women in my writing group mentioned that she found writing really helped her deal with everything that’s happening. What I need to do now is to start making writing an escape, an outlet, while making sure I’m not hiding and disappearing completely. Easier said than done.

How about you? Does writing help you escape from reality a little bit?

10 Responses

  1. I like that–make it an escape. Yes! Sometimes when we turn something we enjoy into a "job" it can suck the joy out of that something. But we're writers, dang it! We have imaginations, right? Use it to fuel.

    *says the woman who is currently facing soooo many distractions. lol

    Good luck, Jeff!

  2. When I finally get STARTED writing, yeah, it's an escape. It's the getting started. I don't know why I keep putting it off. Too many other "distractions" going on in my head, I assume. Which should be the perfect excuse to escape, right? Hmmm… Vicious circle.

  3. I think at times like this we need an escape more than ever. It doesn't mean we're not engaged with the world. My writing reflects my view of the world even if it doesn't take place on the one we're on now! Hope you can get re-energised.

  4. -Donna-Yes,like a mini-vacation everyday! I don't think I've lost the joy of writing so much as I've chosen to allow myself to take an easier path (though watching the Bruins is not necessarily 'easier' for a fan these days, and I *do* feel guilty for enjoying GTA).
    -Stacy–that's kind of my excuse, too!
    -Nick–I agree. And I think 'escaping' from reality is fine, so long as it doesn't become a permanent withdrawal.
    -Sheena-kay–I do find writing is entertaining for me; it's also harder than zoning in front of the TV or aggravating my carpal tunnel playing computer games. Time to get back to the more challenging form of entertainment!

  5. I usually use writing in the opposite way, I think, to examine reality and try to understand or cope with it better. I suppose sometimes I am escaping from the present to examine more universal themes and aspects of humanity or to look at the past. I hope all goes well for you in regaining some momentum. I know I struggle with it a lot.

    A request for brief creative help:

  6. I found myself worn out in the latter part of the year – between the world and a very tough 2016 on a personal level. I'm still fighting my way back into using my time productively and pushing through the exhaustion/depression/worn-out-ness/or whatever you want to call it. Getting there though! Writing is an escape for me and I'm glad it's filling me up again. Good luck to you!!

  7. -Patrick–I think, though, it's still an escape of sorts. My current project is very much informed by current events, but slipping into that particular world, even as it reflects a "what could be," is still a form of stepping away from all the bitterness and blather. I'll have to stop by your blog, thanks for stopping by mine!
    -Jemi–I'm glad you're finding your way again, and will hope for the best for you, personally and professionally.

  8. Of the three CPs in my group who got agents (incl me), two of us ended up firing them after about 2 years and are much happier on our own. One is hanging in with hers. She's gotten about 3 ms's to her and gotten long lists of suggestions with each – sometimes twice or three times. She gets demoralized, but hangs in like a trouper. Two of her ms's were subbed. It's now been 4 yrs and she has yet to publish anything while my other CP has 5 books out and I have 2. 'Nuf said.

    I don't think your reply to AW sounds smug. It sounds true.

    OMG – I *have* to watch CNN every day to see what new horrors are being inflicted on the US. It's like watching a terrible car accident in slow motion, yet I can't stop… Good luck finding more time to write!

  9. -Lexa-Perhaps the day will come, whether I've been 'trade published' or not, that I wish to be the author/editor/designer/chief cook and bottle washer for my own books. That day has not yet arrived. I'm still happy to write 'em, let Agent Carrie try to sell 'em, and let the (eventual) publisher deal with the rest.
    More time to write: I've made more this week, yay!

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