Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Writing “In”

At various times through this lengthy writing drought I would try, to put a twist on a song from Hamilton, to “write my way in”–instead of waiting for some grisly abomination to kick its way out of the back room screaming, “I’m here, write me!”, just write. Write without a destination in mind. Write without purpose. Write for the sake of writing. I’ve tried it off and on without much success, largely due to atrophying of the writing “muscle.” Just as a marathon runner loses endurance if they don’t keep running, I found I couldn’t muster much energy for just randomly writing for the purpose of writing my way into something. It was disheartening, though it bothered me mostly when I thought about it, so I tried not to. Because that always works (insert eyeroll here).

Since going to contract with Breaking Night Press I’ve become more and more involved with writing. I reread the manuscript and made tweaks before submitting it, went through the editing process (and I can’t say enough good things about my editor; more on that some other time, I’m sure), copy editing, proofreading. It’s been exhausting and energizing at the same time; yet, even though I actually did create new scenes or had to do new writing for old scenes I wasn’t finding myself particularly inspired to write new and different things. There was no new project.

The production of Powerless has shifted into a new phase, one which currently doesn’t require a whole lot from me but to wait (and to do things like get a website, engage on social media, and resurrect this blog). This phase has engaged my writer brain in a different way than previous steps. I have found myself imagining more: imagining book launch day and what that will look like; imagining answering questions about Powerless on some blog book tour or at a conference or even on some NPR show like Off the Page or Fresh Air (dream big, baby) or at a public reading. I’ve also found myself thinking about this blog and what to write, and what to put in an email newsletter for all five subscribers.

It seems to be having an impact. On Saturday morning while driving to the grocery store I found myself with a narrative running through my head. I’m never entirely know if I see these things as scenes or hear them as spoken words or read them off of imaginary pages, but there was something there. No story, really, just exposition from some unknown character talking about his (so I believe) reaction to a life-or-death situation, how, instead of “fight or flight” he “froze” because, to borrow from Lynyrd Skynyrd, “I’m telling you son, well it ain’t no fun staring straight down a forty-four.” The character admitted that he might have pissed his pants and that he most definitely did puke up what he thought was his last meal when the event was over.

This bit stuck with me all day Saturday. It poked at me anytime I wasn’t busy with something else, and on Sunday morning I finally scratched the itch. and put it down to virtual paper. Fourteen hundred words later and it was “done”—not a complete story, not nearly as good as what I’d heard/seen/read in my head on Saturday, but it was out, and that was the important thing. I added another four hundred words later, not bad for a day of writing when I’m so out of practice. I’ve learned over the last ten years that when something is knocking around that loudly it’s best to go with it, even if it’s a nothing piece. The act of writing is the point, and once in a while one of these things can turn into something. Once in a while, you can “write your way in” to something bigger. Here’s hoping that’s the case.

Fellow writers, do you ever “write your way in”, or do you only start something when you know where it’s going?

2 Responses

  1. I’ve written two books that started out from a prompt, either during a writers’ group meeting or a blog I read. Is that writing “in”? I haven’t done it in a long time, though. Maybe that’s what I need to do after I finish Ghostly Protector. Some day…

  2. I’m not a plotter. Not in the sense that I outline everything that’s going to happen. I’m more about gathering character backgrounds and having a few ideas of what I want to happen in the story. So I guess I “write in” all the time, as I sit down to my computer and begin the journey of discovery.

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