Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


David Pastrnak is a talented, All-Star right winger for the Boston Bruins who won over the fans in Boston from day one for moments like this:

…and for moments like this:

Pastrnak has developed into a tremendous hockey player. After joining the Bruins as an 18-year-old, he had two modest seasons, then broke out for two consecutive 30-goal seasons. This year, Pasta started out like a house afire, scoring seven goals in Boston’s first five games of the season. He reached the ten goal mark after nine games, and had 17 goals in the first 18 games of the season. Pretty astounding!

But Pasta cooled off. The next ten games saw him score just three goals. It took another ten games to get his next three goals. And it’s taken seven to get the next three. Currently, Pastrnak has 26 goals in 45 games on the year, an impressive total that has Pastrnak tied for 7th in the League in goals, out of almost 600 players.

Three goals in a 10-game span is an impressive stretch for the vast majority of NHL players; to do so over the course of a season leads to a solid, respectable 20+ goal season. While Bruins fans know Pasta is not going to score every single game, the hope that Pasta would provide Boston with its first 50-goal player since the days of Cam Neely dim a little with each game–though we also know that Pasta is capable of going on a hot streak and scoring, say, seven goals in five games, or 17 in 18.

Slumps happen. Top-tier goal scorers go through periods where, to paraphrase the late, great Bill Chadwick, they couldn’t shoot the puck in the ocean from the end of a dock. Goaltenders spring leaks. It happens. The players keep working, and if the slump gets bad enough, they do crazy things, like change how they tape their sticks, or find a new pre-game meal or stop shaving or start shaving or wash the lucky socks. Eventually, the puck starts (or stops, if you’re a goalie) going in, and everyone: the player, his teammates, the fans, are happy again.

I write about this because I am, perhaps for the first time since I started seriously writing, going through a slump. Yeah, I’m sure if I dug through the archives of this blog, I could find posts where I whine and moan about being in a slump, but this one feels different. Way different. I think I wrote somewhere around Thanksgiving that I had resurrected an old project, and it was kind of, sort of going well. Now, it’s not. While I was home for 2+ weeks at Christmas, I wrote almost nothing. I would sit at the computer, stare at the screen, and type around things, if you know what I mean. No scenes. No characters. No sense of what comes next from where I was in the story. And in the two weeks since I’ve been back at work? I’ve written absolutely nothing, at least on this story (I did go back last week and rewrote an opening scene from some other, long-dead project of mine, but that, too, seems to be going nowhere).

Back when I used to participate in the Absolute Write forums, I would generally respond to people who would complain of slumps or block or uncertainty to “write through it” or “just write it.” Got a scene that is really sticky? Write through it. Not sure if your hero should use the gun or not? Just write it–both ways. You’ll figure it out. I still think it’s generally good advice. The act of writing, of pulling words, sentences, scenes out of your head and onto a page, though it feels draining, also leads to filling. It leaves room for more ideas.The problem is, when I sit at the keyboard these last few weeks, there just doesn’t seem to be anything there at all to work with. It’s a bit disheartening, to say the least.

David Pastrnak might try to bust a slump by changing the color of tape on his stick, or finding a new lucky sweater. Maybe I need to try an outline. Or different writing music (or none at all). Or clean up my workstation. I’m willing to take ideas. What do you do to bust out of a writing slump?


2 Responses

  1. Writing slumps… been there, done that. Especially since I started exercising in the morning (boy, did that mess me up). Then I took this class on marketing. It didn't help in marketing but it may be realize that I was using my "creative time" on the treadmill (and reading e-mails!). So this morning I got up and just went to the computer, ignored the e-mails, and opened my WIP. Actually got my writing goal accomplished and THEN I exercised. It was a freeing moment for me.

    So, maybe you just need to switch something around. Find your "creative" time. It could be you're trying to write at the wrong time! And if that doesn't work, try skipping ahead in your story or maybe just write a short story (could be something about your characters, maybe some kind of back story). That's about all I can recommend. Slumps suck, but you will get over it (if you want to). At least I did.

  2. Sorry for the long delay in replying, Stacy, maybe I'm in a blog reply slump, too!
    Good points, all. While shoveling snow yesterday, I had some good 'think time' going and actually got something done yesterday, so maybe it's a start!

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