Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

More Revising

Hoorah, hoorah! Two weeks ago, I finally reached the last page of my WiP! When I pushed back from my desk two Mondays ago, I had cut some 14,000 words from my bloated epic. Perhaps more important than pure word and page count, I was also able, I think, to shorten the ‘ramp up’ time in my story. Two of my trusted readers told me they didn’t get really interested in things until between 40 and 60% of the way in, and that’s way too far in to make readers wait.

At the time I ‘finished,’ I had been thinking I’d send it out to another couple of readers by the end of the month. During the time they have it, I’d get back to work on the query and redo my synopsis, with the goal of sending it out either late this year or early next. Also, I thought I just might actually be able to ~gasp~ do another NaNoWriMo. An old idea of mine has been starting to kick up a bit of a fuss in the back room lately, and, given the way things are in the world right now, it seems topical. For the first time in a few years, the timing for NaNo looked like it might actually work out.

Three days after ‘finishing,’ I had the day off of work and sat down with the manuscript and ran spellcheck. Rather than use features like ‘Change all’ or ‘Ignore All’ (the grammar checker in particular has no understanding of nuance, artistic license, or even grammar), I looked at each highlighted word, each flagged sentence, even though my eyes wanted to roll up in my head. Miracle of miracles, when I was done, I had managed to reduce six words from the total (but, strangely enough, I had added two manuscript pages–location is everything).

And, of course, I discovered a bunch of things that needed to be fixed.

This is how it goes, isn’t it? We tell ourselves we’re ready, and then we find something else that needs fixing. On October 27 I went back to page one and started fast reading. I was aiming to do that sort of sentence-level tightening to pull extraneous words (‘that’ and ‘just’ tend to be big on extraneous usage), but I’ve also found enough ‘big stuff’ to fix that it makes me call into question my entire process! So, now I’m waiting to send this out to readers once again, my dream of having it off my plate by Halloween gone, and NaNo definitively on hold. The good news? I’ve already cut over 3000 words, which has shaved about ten manuscript pages off the whole thing, and I’m more than halfway through.

A recurring theme for me, indeed for any writer, is how hard it is to wait, and how often we have to do it. We’re always waiting: for betas, for agents, for editors. We want to get on with it. We want our works out there in the world, to sink or swim on their own merits. But I’ve stayed my hand. Frankly, I was embarrassed when I saw the hot mess I subjected my betas to. They don’t expect perfection, but they deserve better than what I gave them, and agents will need better.

Do you give in to the temptation to ‘send,’ or do you force yourself to make ‘one more pass’?


Fun stuff

The same day I ran my fateful spellcheck, the Magpie and I drove a couple of hours to Ithaca to see They Might Be Giants in concert at the State Theater. My kids loved They Might Be Giants when they were little–really, why wouldn’t any kid? They’re quirky. They employ clever wordplay in their lyrics. They sing funny. And they use odd instrumentation. They are also far from a novelty act. The two hour plus show was a treat. TMBG is an energetic band on stage, with lots of funny banter and lots of great music. I was a little nervous about not knowing any of the songs (I only actually have the one album myself, 1990s Flood), they played widely from across their 30-year catalog, and I knew more than I thought. I recommend catching them if they come to your town on this tour (It’s also nice to see a band in a 1600-seat theater as opposed to a hockey rink or football stadium). So, here are two selections from TMBG for your listening pleasure: 1990’s “Whistling in the Dark” (which seems appropriate to our current times) and “McCafferty’s Bib” from their newest album, I Like Fun.

6 Responses

  1. I never heard of TMBG, nor either of those songs. I thought maybe they were singing for children (as I listened to the first song), but maybe not (as I listened to the second song).

    As for my writing projects… I don't have a lot of beta readers. I pretty much have to go by my own gut before I hand it off to my daughter to read (she gets my stuff first, usually). But she doesn't get first drafts (I don't let anyone read those!!). She usually gets it after I've revised it a couple of times (and then I hope she's not busy with editing projects of her own!!).

  2. At first, when I was "cut 14,000 words" I thought ouch. But then I saw the "bloated epic" and felt very differently. I wish someone had done that to Order of the Phoenix. lol Well done. It can be hard to do that.

  3. They apparently have done a couple of children's albums, and it's easy to see why. Lots of quirky stuff.
    Beta reader: I may be using the phrase wrong, I don't know. I try not to give mine really drafty products, but clearly I fail sometimes when I get over-eager/anxious.

  4. Thanks. I've found I can be surprisingly ruthless when it comes to cutting. I don't have too many "I have to cut this, but…but…but…" moments. Now I've got to learn how to cut those moments before I write them, hah ha.

  5. I only know one song by them: Birdhouse in your Soul, which I think was their only hit in the UK (you still hear it on the radio). It was nice to hear something else. Glad you enjoyed the concert!

    It's the way, isn't it? We always find something else to fix. But in this case it seems a valuable change. Don't want to be submitting something that isn't as good as you can possibly make it.

  6. There's always something more to fix, for sure. And I expect most authors will look back years later at their masterpiece and say, "Ugh, I wish I could change this one part!"

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