Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Thoughts on ‘Summit Fever’

Last week over at Writer Unboxed, Annie Neugebauer wrote about the perils of ‘Summit Fever,’ a condition in which mountaineers allow the desire to reach their goal–the top of the mountain–to supercede good judgement in getting there (and back down again) safely. If the mountaineers are lucky, they make it safe and sound and maybe have a good story to tell around the campfire that night. If they’re not so lucky, they end up the objects of a search-and-rescue, end up in the hospital, or maybe even dead.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a mountain climber or even a very intuitive group of writers to see where I’m going with this, does it?” Ms. Neugebauer said, and I nodded as I read, because I knew exactly where she was going. Or so I thought. Turns out, I was wrong, because Ms. Neugebauer took the discussion in a completely unexpected direction (for me), as she started talking about burnout, because, “right behind that peak you’ve been headed for is another one. It’s higher, prettier, and juuuuust out of reach.”

It certainly makes sense, because we’re always chasing peaks, aren’t we? Writing the next story, landing the agent (for some), landing the publishing deal or publishing yourself–there is always another peak. I understand Ms. Neugebauer’s point, and I agree, but it’s still not what I was expecting, because for me, Summit Fever is something different.

As I came into December, I was working on a second draft of the WiP. I had hopes of finishing it by Christmas, in part so I could give it to my wife to read (though in that case I might not have taken all of Christmas week off, because it’s still hard to be around when she’s reading my work, I don’t know why). But life and a troublesome spot in the manuscript got in the way. Between Christmas shopping and decoration and picking up the Catbird at school and Christmas itself, and a snag that I spent a good three days working through, I didn’t get it done. But I got closer. And when I passed the 350-page mark (out of 470-something pages, and shrinking by the day), Summit Fever started kicking in. By the time I crossed page 400, the fever was raging.

What does Summit Fever look like? Well, think about that three-day delay in December while I worked out a problem in the page 100s. I went through it a bunch of times and, even after thinking I’d fixed it for good went back to it one more time and fixed it some more. But, when I added a few things in the page 380-range and made some not-insubstantial changes in the post-400 section, I barely took a second glance, even though I knew it would not be as polished as other parts of the manuscript, and might have some glaring errors as a result. Why? Summit Fever. As I got closer and closer to the end, like mountaineers pushing toward the summit long after they should have turned back, I got more and more careless. And last night, my wife told me, “You have the same scene in two different places.” I gave myself a ‘Gibbs slap.’ Summit Fever had caught me again.

I know what the solution is, of course. Like any fever, a good cure for Summit Fever is bed rest. Let the manuscript sit, let the fever burn down, then take another look. But for me, at least, Summit Fever is almost irrestible. Maybe next time I’ll beat it.

What about you? Do you suffer from Summit Fever? How do you cure it?

4 Responses

  1. I love the Gibbs slap! I do it all the time to Hubby because he just doesn't know when to keep his yap shut. Frankly, I think he just likes the attention, thus he eggs me on on purpose.

    As for Summit Fever… Don't think I've gotten that. I have a fear that my story isn't any good, so I'll read it a few times before I give it to someone (usually my daughter) to read. Maybe I'm the type of person who enjoys the view once she gets to the top. I certainly want to catch my breath for awhile. Haha! 🙂

  2. -Stacy: sounds like your husband likes to stir the pot a little! I think I enjoy the view once I'm there, too; I know for a fact I get to a point with manuscripts where all I want to do is get rid of it for a while!

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