Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

An Old Question Revisited



In my second-ever blog post, I asked Is it Always Going to Be Like This? I was talking about the sinking feeling that comes when you read your work: the sensation that it’s not good enough, that it’s not as good as you thought when you wrote it. The cringing at every page, the thinking, “Did I really write THAT” (obviously not the good kind of ‘did I really write that?’). At the time I had just read my first draft of Parallel Lives for the first time, and was mortified by what I read. Is it always going to be like this?
courtesy Colin_K’s photostream
Last week, after letting it sit for 6+ weeks, I read over Barton’s Women. Is it always going to be like this? The answer, at least for me, is ‘No’.
I’m surprised to say it, but I’m happy. I didn’t cringe, at least not with the same frequency as when I read Parallel Lives. If I do say so myself, I’ve written a pretty good story, and I’ve written it fairly well. Is it perfect? No. Are there rough spots? You bet. Are there awkward sentences and ‘WTF?’ moments? Of course. But they are fewer and further between than in my first draft of PL, whose pages are filled with gigantic X’s and notes that scream ‘this is crap!’ Most of what went into my notes for Barton’s Women are notes pointing out cases of repetition (possibly my most frequent note goes something like, ‘said this on p. 64; pick and stick’, meaning, pick one place to say this, and stick with it), continuity and timeline, and POV issues (that’s a big one here; I’m aiming for close 3rd but sometimes slide into omni).
Is this a sign of anything in particular? Well, it could be one of five three things:
  1. I’m actually getting better as a writer
  2. I am more blind to my failings than I was before
  3. I was simply much more critical with Parallel Lives
Obviously, I hope it is number 1. I would like to think that the last two years of writing, blogging, reading, reading, reading, editing, critiquing, etc. and so forth, have made me a better writer. It’s not always easy to tell, is it? As for number 2? I don’t think that’s likely. I am the Doubting Writer, after all, and I will always be the Doubting Writer. I am always going to be my biggest critic, I am always going to look for mistakes, I am always going to judge myself more harshly. I am not going to succumb to Golden Word Syndrome. That leaves number 3, that I was more critical with Parallel Lives, and I do have to consider this.
Parallel Lives was not technically my first novel. That honor belongs to the untitled NaNo I ‘completed’ right before starting PL. It was completed in the sense it had a beginning, a middle and an end, and reached the NaNo goal of 50K words in a month. But it wasn’t finished. By the time I completed it, I was done with it, and the idea of PL was already burning in my fevered little brain and had to be written (It’s telling, too, that I was revisiting this novel after getting PL out to betas last year, but it was superceded by what became Barton’s Women). The NaNo was a month-long brain dump; Parallel Lives was a brain dump followed by months of crafting, until it was finished. It was the first, and thus has a special sigificance for me.
First children often (not always) have excessive pressure put on them by parents. Maybe, because PL was my first, I put too much pressure on myself to get it right, to make it perfect. First Novel Syndrome? Maybe. But that’s not to say that I’m not working to make Barton’s Women perfect. I want it to be perfect, just as I want PL to be perfect. I want it to be published, and I want it to be a big hit with readers and critics alike, the same thing I want for Parallel Lives. To do that, I have to make it a “good story, well told”. Was I harder on Parallel Lives than Barton’s Women? I suppose in the end others will have to decide. I surely hope it’s a case of getting better.
Thanks for reading, have a great weekend!

15 Responses

  1. I'm so glad you're pleased with your progress. I expect everything I write to improve, as I improve. For me, the key is constantly learning.

  2. No, you're definitely getting better. 🙂 Not that I have read your book (unfortunately) — you're just too intelligent to be one of those writers who is blind to his failings.

  3. I know what you mean! I feel better about my writing in many ways, but I'm still terrified it's all crap and no one will ever think much of it. This 'hobby' we've chosen can be pretty tough on the self esteem! 😛 I vote we choose to think we're getting better!

  4. Good to hear there was less cringing!

    I cringed all the way through reading my first novel; I agree, there probably is more pressure for the first story to be perfect.

  5. Less cringing is a good thing. I'm sure that after two years, it is more the fact that you have improved as a writer. I love the way writers grow as they write more. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that it really was an improvement on your part. 🙂

  6. Be careful what you wish for….I'm hoping to be "done"/ready for betas by the end of the month at the latest. Fingers crossed on *that* one, too.

  7. Geez. You really have no idea how talented you are! If I could write as well as you, I'd be crying tears of joy. I'm sure you've gotten better over time though. I like to think we all do! I can't wait to read Barton's Women!

  8. Hey, that's great! I was also shocked the first time I read something of mine without cringing. I'm glad that changes, and I'm glad the new book is going well!

  9. I find this very encouraging as I let go of my first work (for at least the time being) and move on to my second. Thank you for sharing! 😀

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