Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Thanksgiving Leftovers, and Some Fresh Meat

First, the leftover thoughts from last week:

Why do dogs love turkey so much? We left the turkey on the stove on Saturday night, to be picked at. My dog parked herself in the kitchen and barked at it, one bark every 5 or 10 seconds, until we kicked her out of the room.

Thanks for the comments on my last post. This is something I’m ruminating on and will likely come back to in the not-too-distant future.
Now for some fresh meat:
Well, there’s two days left in the insanity that is NaNoWriMo. To those of you that have crossed (hi, Donna) or will cross the finish line with your minimum of 50,000 words, a big, hearty congratulations! I’m sure you know the work isn’t done yet, but you definitely deserve a pat on the back.
For those of you who tried and did not or will not reach the magic line, that’s OK. I sometimes think we overdo it with our kids and the non-competitive thing – you know, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game and all that – but not in this case. For NaNo it really is the effort that counts. So, congratulations on trying, hopefully it is something that was good for you whether you reached 50K or not. The real important part is what comes next: finishing. I mean, really finishing the story. That means not stopping just because you hit 50K words if the story’s not really finished.
NaNo was a bust for me this year, but that’s OK in my book. I probably shouldn’t have signed up for it in the first place. As my musings in September and October showed (okay, so that last one was really November. I didn’t want to throw off my posting schedule), I was rather ambivalent on it, and, once I started, I was not really ‘all in’. I was still pounding out revisions on that other thing, which was much more important to me than NaNo. So, in the first two weeks of NaNo, I managed all of 4100 words. When I cleared Parallel Lives from the deck I had a brief burst where I nearly quadrupled the word count in a span of four days (which was also tied into a change in PoV on my NaNo novel). And then I pretty much stopped, overwhelmed by a combination of Holiday preparations and something new that crept into my brain.
But again, it’s okay. NaNoWriMo 2010 showed me two things: first, that I could shut down that irritating (and often disabling) internal editor; two, that I could write 50,000 words in a month. Knowing this, I really didn’t need to do NaNo this year. After finishing last year’s NaNo, I cranked out 44,000 words on what became Parallel Lives in just under a month. So I came into the year’s NaNo without really needing it in the same way I needed it last year.
Detractors of NaNo point to tips on padding word count and talk about how it encourages sloppy writing habits. What I found this year, in particular, once I got way behind, is that I didn’t like pushing myself in the same way I did last year. I would start a writing session knowing that I ‘needed’ 2800 words to meet my quota for the day, and I found myself obsessively-checking my word count, and pushing on when my body and mind were telling me I was through for the moment. This works well for some people, but it’s not my style.
I think the biggest problem with me and NaNo this year was I just didn’t quite have the story down. It’s been in my head for the last year-and-a-half or so, and I’ve done a couple of start-stops on it. I figured, let me give it a fresh start for NaNo. Good idea. But I could never quite get a good hold of it. I thought I might be onto something when I changed the PoV (I keep hearing a particular character in my head as the MC, and was using first; it wasn’t until I switched to 3rd that I had my biggest burst of writing). And then, in last week’s writing group, I wrote a vignette about a man and a woman in a workplace breakroom. I like it a lot, and really want to do something with it, I just don’t know what, and it’s kind of pushed this story back a little bit. And, in the spirit of NaNoReviMo, I also broke out last year’s NaNo and started reading through it. I was never happy with the way it ended – it felt rushed at the time, the product of erroneous thinking on my part, that I needed to not just hit 50K words, but that I also needed to finish the story. I also wanted to see if it was as bad as my memory of a quickie read-through last April or May told me it was. It was, and it wasn’t, but after getting through half of it yesterday, I think I can see the diamond in the rough.
So, I pretty much put this year’s NaNo to bed at 19,000 words. It’s still a story that wants to be told, but I guess I’m just not quite ready to tell it. Not yet. Right now there are other stories to tell, other stories to polish. I guess this one just needs more time in the hopper.
Thanks for reading.

13 Responses

  1. I'm so happy and sad nano is coming to an end. It's been a trial for me, but I have done a lot. I think doing anything this month is great considering the holidays.

  2. I think that there are stories in our heads that are not always ready to be told when we get the idea for them. I think it helps to put it away for awhile and come back to it. Good effort though! I'd have to give up something big in my life to be able to get that many words down in one month! Right now anyway.

  3. Anything that can get you to shut down the irritating / disabling internal editor is a grand thing, regardless of whether or not you finished! And I'm glad you found a lot to love in your past NaNo story. That's awesome!

  4. I'm all for cheering on NaNo writers, but I never really understood the point of it really. And those rules for padding are ridiculous. I mean, isn't the point to writing to do it well? Like quality over quantity? I guess that just isn't the American way, huh? And you know, when it comes to word count, you can't use that MS Word feature. You have to use the 250 words per page rule for an accurate word count because when it comes to publishing, it's all about the number of pages, not words. Just sayin'.

  5. I'm the same way with word count–if I have a specific number in my head that I "have to" reach, I also constantly check the word count and push myself past what might be a natural break, which ends up not being my best writing 🙂 Today I wrote without a specific word count in mind and I was able to write more than usual. Funny, because I'm normally a goal-oriented person. I've never attempted NaNo, but it definitely intrigues me. Maybe next year.

  6. Lisa – I think I'm going to have to with this one. I may try to play around with it a little more, just to make sure, but that's how it's looking right now.

    Peggy – I finished reading it yesterday. Eew, the back half was worse than the front. It's alright, though, I'm excited about it, and that's pretty important.

    Nancy – they're not 'rules' exactly, merely 'guidelines'. Actually, they are suggestions, and I do have to admit some of them break the 'rule' (suggestion) of using as few words as possible to tell your story. The real idea on it is to get people in the habit of writing. Stop talking about it and get your butt in the chair, that sort of thing.

    Amanda – I don't remember doing that last year, it was more of a problem this year. Until I decided it wasn't that big a deal, and I'd get what I get.

    Thank you all, as always, for your comments.

  7. I've had stories that felt like they didn't want to be written, despite the fact I had a goal/deadline to meet; I think it's good to recognize it, though, than rush through and have something that needed more time to stew.

  8. The important thing is that you got some writing done. I can't do NaNo…all the pressure. I like taking my time and flowing with the inspiration. It's still a great opportunity to start a story.

    My dogs love turkey. That's why they get their own place during Thanksgiving. Have a great day. 🙂

  9. First, not sure why my comment to your gender post didn't stick, but I thought that post was really interesting and that you were (broadly, more often than not) right about gender differences in social situations.

    Congratulations on the progress you did make for your NaNo. I'm impressed you got that far. My loose goal for daily writing is about 300 words, and I've been falling very short of that lately. I keep stalling because my plot, like yours, wasn't quite ready to start. Good luck going forward.

  10. Robin – glad you liked the other post. Not sure why the comment didn't stick. I know some other bloggers have had some trouble with blogger from time-to-time. Hopefully it was a one-time glitch.

  11. You wrote 19,000 words and worked out a lot of other writing issues. I'd say NaNo was a success in that it was helpful in ways you didn't expect.

    We had all kinds of pet issues over the turkey in our house, too. No one could go near the refrigerator without the cats and the dog pouncing. Too funny.

  12. NaNo is such a positive experience for so many reasons. I like the boost it gives me to write even if I'm really tired and busy. I think you got your time's worth out of it from the sounds of it! 🙂

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