Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Wandering in the Fog

The beauty of being a wingman is that you can start with an empty page and the briefest glimmer of an idea–it doesn’t have to be an overarching idea for a novel, either; it can be a character or a single scene with almost no context at all–and start writing. At the end of the session you have something, something that suggests the next scene or chapter, something that may even suggest how it’s all going to turn out in the end (though that may take a few sessions). As you string sessions and scenes together, the story starts to take shape. Like an object seen in the fog, it goes from being a vague, slightly-darker-than-the-background thing to something solid, definite, definable.

The story’s somewhere out there. I think.

The problem with doing it this way, of course, is you can get yourself lost in some plot dead end, where things don’t make sense and it’s not clear how to get out of it. That’s when you find yourself scrapping large chunks of manuscript that you poured your heart’s blood into, when you find yourself thinking, “Why did I delete that scene in Trafalgar Square???” (Which is most likely followed by “Did I save  that scene in Trafalgar Square???” and a bit of praying as you search your hard drive)

Despite all the hubbub of the weekend, I made significant progress on my manuscript, and find myself at the 70% mark. But now I find myself at one of those trouble spots. During my last read-through, I came to a section where I realized I had cut a significant scene. I don’t remember actually cutting the scene, but I remember why I did it, which is kind of funny. That scene went back in, and I’m glad.

Unfortunately, every scene that goes in or out at this stage has a ripple effect. I am now almost at the point where I had inserted a chapter’s worth of material on my last revision, right before I sent the manuscript to Carrie. This I remember writing, and I remember why I wrote it, but on my post-Carrie read-through, it felt heavy-handed and…not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.

And this is the part where I think I should compromise with myself and do some form of outlining. I’m not talking about abandoning my wingman ways, no. But once I actually start getting my story down into a fairly solid form, maybe I should outline it–really outline it–and keep that outline handy and updated (I usually do some form of outline, but I don’t keep up with it, so it’s kind of useless). This way, maybe I would have a better sense of what one change in Chapter 15 might have in Chapter 18, instead of having to discover it all over again.

Should be a fun week! Do you ever got lost in your work? How do you get out of it?

“Tree And Fog” by George Hodan, from

7 Responses

  1. Have you considered looking at the beats now, to see if they can help you figure it out? I think it's funny that you should post this considering what one of my own blog comments are today. 😀

  2. I have gotten lost in my work, but not for awhile now. 🙁 Usually the scene ends and I'm out of it. Or Hubby comes home and knocks me out of it. I've been known to sit down at 3:00 to write for an hour or two, look up and see it's 7:00! I really love those days, though. I feel PRODUCTIVE!

  3. Not so much an outline but I find that a timeline helps, after I've done a first draft. Then I know what's happening when. I do like going down avenues that I don't know where they're going, so I can't start with an outline!

  4. -Donna–yes, this would be a good time for that, I think!
    -Stacy–I like that, too!
    -Nick–A timeline is also a good idea. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. I try to outline … but only after the first draft. I've done a few bullet outlines in advance, but they rarely amount to more than 40 or 50 words, so I'm not sure they count. 🙂

  6. Outline, outline! Clip those wings and get more business-like. When you sell this ms and it gets famous, the publisher will contract you to more books and time limits. You have to know what you're doing. No time to flap around. 😉

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