Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The Reading, Part I

So, on Friday I pulled my novel out of its cabinet. It blinked its eyes and tried to scurry back into the dark, but I held firm to the binder and dragged it out onto the bright, sunny porch (we had no power). I sat  on the porch with a cup of coffee, a glass of water, a pen, a pencil and a notepad, opened the book and began to read.
I really don’t know how I’m supposed to do this. Part of me wanted to just read it straight through, as if I’d picked it up in a bookstore or at the library or something. Forget the mistakes in grammar, the extra spaces, the misspellings, let’s worry about the meta-things: voice, story, characterization. The rest of it can wait for another read through.
Of course I couldn’t do it that way. I was afraid that if I noticed something and glossed it over in the name of finishing the read, I might not remember what bothered me and I might not see it again. Notes went in margins, bigger thoughts went in the notepad. By the end of the day I was on page 152 out of 317 with seven double-sided pages of notes (Note to self: write neater). Not a bad day’s work.
So, how do I feel about it?
It’s not as bad as I feared, but not as good as I want it to be.
I didn’t cringe while reading it. I didn’t feel embarrassed, didn’t have any WTF? moments. I didn’t want to throw the book into the road or feed the pages to my neighbor’s cows (they probably wouldn’t eat it, but my daughter has a friend who has goats. They would definitely eat it.) or stuff them in the fireplace. I know it could be better, and I hope I can make it so.
A few things I’ve noticed in this process so far:
*The word ‘that’ is one of those invisible words that is easy to cut. I think one of the first things I’m going to do when I work on the document is do a find/replace search for ‘that’. Some will have to stay, but most can probably go. Sorry, old friend, you’re just not needed.
*I can often tell where I started writing for the day. There are a few sentences (usually at the beginning of chapters) where I can see that I was feeling around, like spider on the end of a branch, trying to catch hold of the words, the rhythm, the story, the voice. There’s a tentativeness to the words and sentences; it usually only lasts a line or two before I get it. I wonder if I can do some kind of warm-up exercise in the future.
*I’ve been able to spot cases of repetition, in terms of words and passages. I was sometimes aware, while writing, that I’d already written a similar passage elsewhere (I knew I had, but I couldn’t always find it). On the read-through, I’ve been able to find them. ‘See page 97’ I note in the margin. In my notepad I write ‘p. 97, p. 115, repeat. One must go.’ The good thing is cutting some of this will make room for expanding some other places.
I was afraid to begin this process, but so far it’s been fun. I hope I that I (Look! Another one!) will still think so when I finish the read-through (possibly by the end of today). So I will sign of for today, still doubting, but hopeful.

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