Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Still The Same

First, some music, taking you way back to 1978….

Wow, I haven’t been into Bob Seger since…well, I’ve never really been into him all that much; I liked few of his songs when I was younger, but it didn’t take long for songs like Betty Lou’s Getting Out Tonight or Her Strut to lose their appeal, and don’t get me started on Old Time Rock and Roll. If I see one more Risky Business, Tom Cruise-dancing-in-his-underwear parody, I might pop a blood vessel in my brain. Still, there are a couple of Seger songs that are not Automatic Dial Turners (heh, showing my age. I guess that would be ‘button pusher’, not dial turner these days), and this one is not inappropriate given the subject matter.
On a fairly regular basis, people throw out on forums and blogs the dread question, “What motivates you to write?”  This is most typically asked when they’re feeling particularly down about things, or have hit the ‘saggy middle’ of their work. My answer has pretty much always been the same, and I did a post about this once before. Since didn’t label that post, I can’t find it now, so I’ll summarize: My motivation is that I want you to read what I write, and I want you to buy what I write. The only way for that to happen is for me to keep writing, to get it done, and make it good. That hasn’t changed from the first time I wrote it, and it still hasn’t changed. It’s still the same.
What’s also still the same, however, is the problem I have reading my writing. A few weeks back I received a critique on Barton’s Women from one of my valued crit partners. It took me a good twenty-four hours to work up the nerve to do more than skim the e-mail through squinty eyes (yeah, it makes no sense, but that’s how I always look at those critiques–through squinty eyes or kind of sidelong, or sometimes both). Now, there were some very, very nice things said, and the things cited as issues were all fair and, if when worked on by me, will make this manuscript even better. Now it’s up to me. It’s time to read it again, make more notes, and do some rewriting. And yet….
And yet, though 3+ weeks have passed, I find myself really struggling to crack the manuscript open and start the process. It’s not because I hate the manuscript–quite the contrary, I think it’s good. Unlike the name I’ve given to this blog, and my general approach to so much in life, I think Barton’s Women is good. Get-an-agent good. Hook-an-editor good. I’ll be honest, when I was writing the first draft, I didn’t love it as much as Parallel Lives, but I’ve believed for quite some time that this has much more potential for commercial appeal. (I could be deluding myself, of course, but I don’t think I am on this one). It’s also not because I don’t like the work of revising. Quite the contrary. While revising doesn’t necessarily match the exhilaration that can come with whirlwind drafting, the act of crafting brings a different sort of satisfaction. I like watching word counts expand and contract. I like the feeling of knowing I just sanded off the rough edges from a scene and have made it smooth and not likely to give splinters when you run your hand over it. There’s drafting, which to me is more of a rush, and crafting, which is a
slower sort of satisfaction.
The simple truth is, I just really hate reading my writing. Part of it is simple fear that another read is going to smash my dreams of agents and editors, of book deals and readers. It’s embarrassing, somehow, in a way I can’t explain. When I got my copy of Summer’s Double Edge, I read every story in the book (they’re quite good, by the way)–except my own. I looked at it, and reveled in my title and name in print, but I didn’t read it. I can’t. Even though I think that story’s good (and it was a lot of fun to write), and it’s been deemed worthy by an editor and been positively received by folks who’ve read it, I don’t want to read it.

I know, I know, you’re saying, “Get over yourself already.” I will. In fact, I have a half hour to spare in my day today, and I have the first 50 or so pages printed out, so it looks like it’s time. Just let me make some coffee first (hah ha, kidding!). Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

15 Responses

  1. I rarely feel that my own writing is as good as others', despite what objective readers say. *shrugs* I think that's normal.

    Good luck with your edits. 🙂

  2. Actually I think you should have someone read it to you. No one is too old to have something read to them once in a while. Maybe hearing it in a different voice will soothe your fears. Like Stacey this has never been an issue for me either.

  3. I won't tell you to get over yourself. I feel the same way. I often have an intense love/hate relationship with my manuscript. At the moment we're not getting along very well. I'm not even rereading the pages I wrote the day before, just sticking my chin out and saying, "fine, be that way" and continuing on.

    But I believe you when you say your manuscript is good enough to get some attention from agents and editors. 🙂

  4. Writer and their quirks, eh? I say just take it as more evidence that you're doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing: being a writer.

  5. I can understand why reading over your own work is different to reading over somebody else's. For me, it's like I want people to read my stuff, but I don't want people I legitimately KNOW to read my stuff in case they hate it or only pretend to like it. Fingers crossed that you'll find the motivation to keep re-drafting BARTON'S WOMEN 🙂

  6. Thanks, Bonnee. I think the only thing worse than me reading my writing is someone I know reading my writing! I may have mentioned this once before, but the first time I gave my wife a piece of my fiction, I went outside and marched up and down the street, throwing snowballs at trees while she read it. And I gave her my first completed manuscript when she was about to leave for a week!

  7. I desperately hate reading my own stuff. I'm with you there. BTW, you're quite right about Barton's Women. I predict it will go very far. It's really an amazing read. It stays with you. It's definitely one of my favorite books I've ever read. Beautifully written and thought-provoking. It's just a bestseller waiting for a publisher!

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