(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
It’s been 18 months since I finished the third draft of the second Shara Summers novel, entitled DEAD COOL. I haven’t touched it since then.
Why? I got discouraged. Feedback I had from beta readers suggested there was a lot of work still to do on it. So much so, I didn’t know where to begin.
Some writers refuse to listen to criticism. Sometimes I think I have the opposite problem. I listen to too much criticism. Someone says to me, “I don’t think this plot is working”, I look at it and think, “they’re probably right”. But then I have no ideas for a new plot so I just stop working on the story. I have had a few people say, “I don’t like your amateur sleuth; she’s not a strong enough character to take through a series”. This triggers a little voice in my head that insists there’s no point in carrying on with any more books about this character because no one likes her.
All this effectively meant I got so discouraged about writing about Shara I couldn’t carry on with the series. A book I got three drafts into has been languishing on the PC ever since.
Two significant things happened since then. First, my NetBook died about a week after the crit session I had for this manuscript. I had been using said NetBook to make copious notes about what my critiquers were saying. I didn’t back this up anywhere. When the NetBook died, this file was lost in the ether forever. Given that this was some time ago, I no longer have a clear memory of what I was told I needed to fix.
Second, I have recently had feedback from someone else I gave the manuscript to – a retired copper who used to work for the Metropolitan Police Murder Squad. I gave him the manuscript because I wanted to know if I was making any glaring errors in the police procedural bits.
He came back to me recently and told me how much he enjoyed it. It was a good holiday read, he said – the sort of story he’d probably take to the beach to enjoy while relaxing in the sun. And he had no problem with any of my procedural scenes (except apparently they don’t draw chalk lines around bodies anymore). He also didn’t have a problem with my amateur sleuth taking advantage of the fact that one of the investigating police officers fancies her, and using that to get information about him about the case. My writing group critiquers had a problem with that. It’s highly unethical for a police officer to have any kind of relationship with someone who should be a suspect, they said.
It might be unethical, but as my copper friend pointed out, policemen are as human as anyone else. They might well engage in unwise relationships with someone they encounter on a case. In fact, he’d come across such things happening in his career.
The strange thing is, encouraging comments from just one person who enjoyed the book have inspired me to finish it. And maybe the fact I no longer have my crit session notes is not such a bad thing. There’s a balance to be had between ignoring all criticism and heeding every negative comment. Sometimes, you have to trust your instincts. With the Shara books, the fact that I enjoy writing about her should be enough to keep me coming back to her.
And that small voice inside? That’s the voice of self sabotage. That’s the voice that tells me to listen to all the criticism. And I think maybe I need to learn to ignore her every once in a while.
Shara Summers will be back very soon. And if you haven’t been introduced to her yet and are curious about my actress amateur sleuth, DEATH SCENE is available for the Kindle for a mere £2.59. American readers can find the US link here.
In the meantime, I am working on the fourth and hopefully the final draft of DEAD COOL. And you know what? It’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was.