Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

What a Week

Wow, it’s been quite a week.
The Origins blogfest exhausted me. It was a lot of fun digging that old story out and pulling excerpts from it; I’m glad my mother saved it, and I’m glad I didn’t just toss it in the circular file when I found it. I’ve really enjoyed visiting other blogs and seeing how other writers got their starts. At first I tried to see patterns, but there really are none. For every person who got their first burst of inspiration at the age of 11 or 12, there were three who can vividly remember writing when the were five or six, and some who never picked up a pen until they were forty. No patterns, we’re all different. Thanks again to DL, Matt, Katie and Alex for putting that one together.
This week also saw the Is It Getting Hot in Here? bloghop, put together by Cassie Mae and Hope Roberson. I had considered an entry, but I’m glad I didn’t. Not because it didn’t look like fun, but because it was just too much for me. As Dirty Harry said:

Again, though, I had a lot of fun reading a lot of posts this week, and I had to splash some cold water on my face after reading a few of those entries. Nice job, all!

And, of course, in the Real World we had Valentine’s Day. I’m not a big Valentine’s Day guy, and, thankfully, my wife isn’t big on it, either (although, as she points out to me, “If it was important to me, it would be important to you”). However, I did get her something. I gave her a story.
It was a piece I first wrote in my Writer’s Group, started on April 3 of last year. I wrote it off a prompt, but knew as I was writing it that it was destined for my book (In fact, there’s a note scribbled in the margin that says ‘This could go before the beach party’). We usually read what we’ve written that day to the group, but I did not. On the surface, it was because I wanted to share a finished short story I’d started two weeks earlier and I didn’t want to hog all the reading time. Deep down, however, I think this was an example of what Stephen King would call “writing with the door closed.” Everyone in the group knew I was writing a book, but I was keeping it all close at the time, not ready to share at all.
I brought it home and cleaned it up, and dropped it in before the beach party. Less than two weeks later I typed THE END, printed out Parallel Lives, and stuffed it in a drawer. Hooray!
When I read the book six weeks later I was no longer happy. The piece did not fit.
I see this come up on Absolute Write and on writerly blogs all the time. Someone asks the question: How do you know when you’re finished? How do you know when something isn’t right? The answer is, You just know. And as much as I wanted to love this piece, as much as I wanted it to be in Parallel Lives, the simple truth was, it was a square peg. It didn’t work. I just knew. So it came out, and I have to tell you, it didn’t really make me as sad as you would think. I’ve found that cutting has almost never been as hard as I’ve thought it would be (Yeah, yeah, wait ’til an agent or editor says “This scene that you absolutely love more than anything else absolutely, positively MUST GO, or no publish for you!”). I ripped it out and consigned it to the mothball section of my hard drive.
But it wouldn’t go away. Since then I’ve taken that piece out and worked it and reworked it several times, and almost got it. But it was never just exactly right. Each time it came out for three or four days, and each time it went back, a thing that refused to bend into just the right shape.
Until this week. 
On Monday, with Valentine’s Day looming, I had an idea. I opened the story up, renamed it again (eleveneleven8 and then eleveneleven9. And I’ll note that it had at least two other names before getting the eleveneleven designation) and got to work on it. On Tuesday, I looked it over one more time. And I just knew. It was right.
It’s nothing much, an 1100-word (1111, to be exact, hence the name) quasi-narrative, 2nd person meditation on falling in love. I printed it, put it on her desk with some truffles (the chocolate kind, not the mushroom kind), and there it was. Maybe not the biggest, showiest Valentine’s Day gift in the world, but probably what she wanted most of all. “It reminds me of us,” she said after reading it. Which was exactly what I thought way back in April, and maybe why it didn’t work in Parallel Lives.
I think there’s significance to this in my development as a writer. When I put that story on her desk I knew to some extent I was playing with house money. I expected her to see the similarities to our own story, expected that she’d be a sucker for the sentiment in it. It’s easy to be confident when you know the deck is stacked, but even then it’s been difficult for me to share in the past. I feel like I’m turning a corner somehow, and I like it. I’m not quite ready to declare that there’s a NEW ME, not ready to change the name of the blog, but it’s a good feeling, that’s for sure. I hope I can continue riding this wave when the queries go out and the inevitable rejections roll in, but that’s a subject for the hopefully not-too-distant future. Have a great weekend, everyone.

6 Responses

  1. “If it was important to me, it would be important to you” I LOVE this. Your wife is wise. This is a beautiful post and beautifully written. I think it is incredibly romantic to give your wife a story that YOU wrote for Valentine's Day. I'll say again that you shouldn't be the Doubting Writer because you're incredibly talented. Also, the whole cutting scenes you're in love with or trying to fit them into a work they're not meant for totally resonated with me. Been there!!! And I love writing with the door closed! 🙂

  2. This is such a great post, and I'm so glad for you! Finding a story that just FITS is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of talent – and you've got it! 🙂 What a perfect Valentine's Day gift. 🙂

  3. What a nice, unique Valentine's gesture. 🙂 Glad that you're building some confidence in your work, too.

  4. That's an awesome gift, Jeff. I hope she liked it. And you're right, it does reflect some of your own personal growth that you felt it was something you could share.

  5. What a fantastic present. And I'm glad it gave you that feel of moving forward too. Lovely post – and thanks for your visits and comments this week!
    Laura x

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