Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Grinding Away

I continued to make headway on my novel over the weekend. I’m approximately 80 pages into the revision work, and now we’re in the sticky part. The first 70 pages or so went well. I was happy with the changes I’ve been making. More importantly, I’m largely happy with my original writing. Oh, there are some big gaffes here and there, but the story as a whole feels good: things are hanging together pretty well; I’m happy with the ‘Voice’ of the novel; and I feel like it’s flowed pretty well. I’ve added sections and segments, and even a possible whole, new chapter, yet I’ve also managed to trim a couple thousand words. So far, so good.
Yesterday I came to a screeching halt.
I was brought short by a chapter that didn’t seem to do anything.
This is A Very Bad Thing.
I spent a lot of time yesterday morning going over the chapter, trying to figure out how to make it Do Something. And I came up empty. There are things in it that I like, things I think are important in terms of the development of the main character and his love interest. That’s why I wrote this chapter. Yet, my overwhelming sense of the chapter is that it didn’t do anything, and I really couldn’t seem to fix it.
I don’t think this was a case of me being afraid to ‘kill my darlings’ as They say. I’ve been pretty good about chopping stuff. Whole paragraphs and sections have gone wherever it is that letters and words go when you hit that ‘Delete’ key. Paragraphs and whole sections I liked and admired disappeared into the vapors at the touch of a button. I’m not afraid to cut. No, the big concern is that I was so stymied in my efforts to fix the chapter. Even if I did axe the whole thing, I was coming up empty on my efforts to put something new in there that would actually do what I wanted.
I think maybe it was something in the air yesterday. At my Writer’s Circle I spent an hour chasing something that I could not quite grab hold of. I squeaked out one paragraph (not related to my novel), that’s it. I had an idea of the concept, but just couldn’t manage to run it down and get it to paper. And I wasn’t the only one in that state yesterday. No one in my group was overly happy with what they wrote yesterday. I guess it was just one of those days.
The funk continued for me this morning. I was still stuck; still not sure how to either salvage what was already written, or what to put in its place. And then I had a single idea, grabbed my notebook and jotted some words down while I made coffee, and the single words turned into sentences that flowed out into a paragraph or two. It was enough to prime the pump. I’ve now managed a complete rewrite of the offending chapter, and I think it works. As I write this the pages sit on the printer tray, waiting for me to pick through them with my pen. They’re not quite ready to get dropped into the middle of my book just yet (and the darlings I’ve been holding out hope for are not in this new version at all; looks like they’re goners) and it may take the rest of the day and part of tomorrow for me to really make it work, but I think this crisis maybe be over. Thank goodness for that.

4 Responses

  1. The handwritten notebook thing works for me too. I have a small one filled with sentences, ideas, doodles, and fixes for stories/chapters that have stalled or died. That notebook is my lifesaver. I can change course in a clingy stubborn piece without feeling as though I've betrayed my beloved…


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