Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The Statement

It’s done.

Not NaNoWriMo, because I skipped it once again. As we came ever closer toward this fabled month I considered NaNo. It’s been a few years since I’ve done one and I actually had a couple of things that would have fit the bill: there’s the project I wrapped up last year that I put aside to marinate that is still marinating (though I actually thought about it recently for the first time in a long time, and saw some prospects for it that I hadn’t seen before); there’s the thing that started out intending to be a very short, darkly humorous short story that instead turned into a very long, much more serious story. I have potential plans for this one, but I’m not quite ready to talk about that here.

Instead, though, I turned my November into something a little more important, perhaps: preparing an application for a fellowship from NYSCA/NYFA (that’s New York State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts). Each year, NYSCA/NYFA offer fellowships in various categories. Every other year, the fellowship includes a fiction category, and every year it’s offered I forget about it until it’s too late. Not this year, though. (If you are a reader in New York state, visit for details. Short version: $8000 award to be used however you want. Applications are accepted until December 13) I’m happy to report that my application was submitted this morning, while the rest of the family slept off the turkey.

But don’t think I knocked this sucker out in a few hours on Black Friday. In addition to the various “Who are you?” and “Do you REALLY live in New York state?” questions, there were some challenges. A twenty-page sample. I took the first thirty manuscript pages, edited the hell out of it, and managed to squeeze it into those twenty pages. Then there’s the synopsis. Four hundred words? That’s it??? It’s hard enough synopsizing a 116K word manuscript into 1000 words or so, and you only want to give me 400? Well, as I said, it was not as hard as I thought, and I even had a few words left over.

And then there was the Artist Statement. Four hundred words (again!), “giving an overview of your artistic practice,” including “ideas, themes, and methods in your practice.” Yikes! Short of condensing thirty or so pages into twenty, this was by far the most difficult, most time-consuming part of the application. I’d made a good start of it a few weeks back, thought I was on the right track, but on Monday morning I shoved myself away from my desk, my head almost hurting because I just couldn’t get it, and seriously wondered if I’d have it at all by the deadline.

On Wednesday, I started fresh. I also took a completely different tack from where I’d started several weeks ago. Instead of trying to take the 10,000-foot view of myself as a writer (note: I’ve been looking at a lot of aerial photos for work lately in preparation for some winter projects), I zoomed in, looked close at the submitted sample, and then turned the telescope around. I started really thinking about my writing: what I was trying to accomplish and how. Wondrously, everything came together and I put together a pretty good statement, if I do say so myself. More important than that, however, in writing my Artist Statement I think I’ve finally been able to find my identity as a writer.

I’m going to leave off for now—this post is already getting a little long and I’m off and there’s other things to be done (like writing!). I promise to come back and delve into this more, as I think it’s an important topic. Thanks for reading, and I’ll leave you with a question: Have you ever written an Artist Statement? Share your experience in the comments.

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