Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Re-read, Revise…Procrastinate

Some time soon, perhaps as early as today, I’m going to embark on one of the most frightening exercises of my life. It’s an activity that I’ve been eager to get to, but terrified to start. In fact, writing this means I’m almost certainly going to delay this activity until tomorrow, if not next week. What, you may ask, is causing all this doubt and procrastination?
I’m going to read my novel.
I started this particular opus in December. According to the date stamp in Microsoft Word, the first piece of this novel was saved on December 6, 2010. The idea had started squirming in my head somewhere in November, but I was busy with my NaNoWriMo book. When that was cleared from the deck (52K words! Woohoo!) I set out trying to write something that was actually, you know, good, because I was pretty certain that my NaNo was – is – not. It’s a good idea, but I know the execution was poor. But that’s another story.
I wrote like a fiend through December and January, struggled with organization and an unsatisfying ending in February and March. Finally, in mid-April, I sat back and said “It’s done.” I did not actually type THE END in gynormous letters across the bottom, because I knew that, while the story was finished, the work was not. Maybe my subconscious is telling me something.
Anyway, I dutifully printed it, spent a good fifteen laborious minutes with a hole punch and binder, snapped the binder shut, and stuffed it in a cabinet.
There’s a lot of debate about what to do with a novel when you’re finished with a first draft. Some (well, a lot) of people advocate placing it under lock and key for anywhere from a month to a year. Others get right back to work on it the very next day. What to do, what to do?
I decided to wait. The next day I went and pulled out a short story I had written in October and sent off to a contest in November. I had finally received noticed that I didn’t win, so I figured I’d take a look at it and see if I could get it published anywhere else. Once I looked at it, the wisdom of simmering my novel became apparent. I lived with this short story for several weeks, writing it, revising it, going over it again and again. But it never got to sit. When I opened the file (the one I’d sent to the contest) I found a double word in the first line (‘he went to to the car’). And a correct spelling of an incorrect word. Reading further, it got worse. There were things in the story that didn’t quite make sense.
I was mortified. These things were so apparent to me immediately, nearly six months after writing it, when I simply failed to see them. I corrected them, tightened up the story, and it’s now out on sub again, hopefully to find a home this time. We’ll see.
Now back to the novel. I promised myself I’d wait at least a month until I looked at it again. I printed it on April 12, so at this point I’m five weeks in. My favorite writer, Stephen King, recommends at least six weeks. If I can hold out until Tuesday I’ll have made it that far. I was pretty good about things for the first two to three weeks: I got busy with those short stories and started fishing around for another novel idea that I haven’t quite grabbed hold of, but it’s coming.
The problem is, I’ve started getting antsy for the novel. I’m anxious, I want to look, I want to read it, I want to make it great.
And I’m afraid of it at the same time.
I think my biggest fear is that, on reading it, I’ll discover it’s absolute crap. I know much of my NaNo is, especially the ending. I didn’t want to just have 50K words on paper on November 30, I wanted to have a full novel, beginning, middle and end. As a result, I pounded out nearly 11,000 words over the final three days, and forced the ending. Badly. When I was writing this novel, I thought it was good. There were problem parts. I knew that as I wrote them, but there were also parts where I thought, ‘Damn, that’s good.’ Right now, I’m afraid that I suck as a writer, plain and simple, despite what the fine folks in my writer’s group tell me.
I’m also afraid that I’ll think it’s pure gold, that I won’t be able to see the plot holes, bad characterization, wooden dialogue and complete lack of story. So I’ll go along, humming to myself as I clean up spelling grammar errors (the ones I see; my grammar is weak), convinced that I’ve written a brilliant novel that will make you laugh and cry and clamor for more. And then I’ll let someone read it, and they’ll hand it back to me, grim-faced, and say “Keep your day job,” and someone will confiscate my keyboard. Hey, it could happen.
Well, that’s enough doubt and angst for me for today. As for what to do? Well, I have a function at my daughter’s school to go to this afternoon, and then I have to drive my other daughter around town this evening, so today is out. Tomorrow, weather permitting, the lawn needs to be cut, and the Bruins are playing, and Sunday’s the day of rest, so that’s out. I guess we’re looking at six weeks after all.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the comment, Lucinda. I suppose it will always be like this, maybe I'll just learn to handle it better.

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