Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The WiP Whip

I need a WiP Whip. 

Hard to believe that a month ago I was complaining about being stuck in the middle of my WiP. I had a beginning. I had a middle. In fact, at 75K words in, I was past the middle. I should have been wrapping it up, bringing things to a thrilling close. But I was stuck.

Barton’s Women has gotten out of control. In a coda to my Random Act of Kindness post, I relayed how an e-mail exchange with Donna K. Weaver helped get me out of the middle. I cranked out the verbiage and wrote the ending of the story.

And now it’s totally out of control. In the month since I wrote that first post about being stuck, Barton’s Women has grown. It has currently reached–I kid you not–116,000 words. That’s way too long.

What happens is after I get the bones of the story down I go into backfill mode. I still see scenes in my head, hear bits of dialogue, create new subplots. It’s a fun part of writing for me, because the pressure is off. When I’m doing the real first draft of the story I have no idea where or how it’s going to end, so there’s always a certain degree of pressure I feel to get to that point. To have a point. Once I hit the end, that pressure is relieved to a huge degree. The story has a beginning and an end and most of a middle; these bits just help make it…more. These scenes provide depth to characters, tension, and help to drive the story toward the conclusion I’ve already written (and sometimes they help change what comes later, too). But 116,000 words?

The good news is that the ‘backfill’ scenes for Barton’s Women have finally started to dry up. I don’t have things in my head related to it that are begging to get out on paper, no fresh ideas or sense of ‘this MUST happen.’ No, now it’s time to read the damn thing–all 116,000 words of it–and start cutting.

Thinking of the way this story has ballooned makes me think of Hercules fighting the Hydra. For each head Herc cut off, two grew in its place. So cutting is a scary proposition, because we all know how the editing process can go. Maybe I need something like this instead of a pair of scissors or a sword.

14 Responses

  1. Wow, 116k!! That's crazy, lol. I'm at 44k and worrying that my story won't be long enough. At least you have a lot of material to work with during revisions. Good luck cutting that thing down 🙂

  2. And there's going to be a whole bunch of deleting. Unless, of course, I find the story *has* to be that big….

  3. Don't feel badly, my "first" novel (the one "under my bed") was 175,000 words and Finding Claire Fletcher was over 140,000 words when I first wrote it AND I SENT IT TO AGENTS LIKE THAT. Scary, I know! What's even weirder is that several of them actually read it at that length (and told me I had to cut!) Yeah, you need to cut but just think how much better and tighter it will be when you get done! I like Carrie's analogy.

  4. You can't edit it unless you've written it, so I don't think overwriting is necessarily a bad thing. As long as you can bring yourself to "kill your darlings" you should be fine.

    Good luck. I'm doing the same thing in a part of my book's that's always been the toughest anyway. Ugh

  5. I always overwrite and then have to break out the machete. For me, at least, it helps to put the cut copy in a separate document. That way I don't feel like I'm throwing those words away just yet. I actually enjoy cutting copy now. That's weird, isn't it? : )

    Good luck!

  6. Hi Jeff! I can't believe I haven't followed you yet. I've seen you around the blogosphere for a while. Anyway, I remedied that and am now following you.

    I'm the opposite when it comes to writing. I write the bare bones and then go back and add the details, description, etc.

  7. Thanks, all!

    -Great analogy, Carrie. Too much clay. Some of it definitely comes from not really knowing what the story is beyond the briefest of concepts.
    -Those are some pretty massive books, Lisa! What will they end up as in terms of final word count when they come out?
    -Donna, no real problems for me with 'killing darlings'. I've found I'm pretty capable of doing that without too much angst.
    -Cynthia, exactly what I'm doing. Say hello to 'Bartonswomen3' and 'cuts'.
    -Matt, I'm a dedicated overwriter. I think I learn a lot about my characters, the story, and the craft of writing from it. The last couple of weeks with this one, though, felt like I was rushing downhill on a bike with no brakes!

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