Always get a second opinion

I love a printed manuscript: it LOOKS like 7 months’ work

This week my Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, got long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. I would like to say I was thrilled when I received the email, but I’d be lying. It came only hours after I had typed up the last second-draft-edit amends and vowed to put the darn novel in the bin/cupboard/big pit in the garden because, seven months after starting it, I still had no idea what it was about.

Instead my overwhelming emotion was fear. How could I send my manuscript off, all 112,500 words of it, with my name on the front (though thankfully the competition is judged anonymously) when I KNEW it was a pile of crap? But I had come so far, invested 7 months of my life, not to say thousands of pounds of nursery fees, plus the competition entry fee. I wasn’t giving up.

So I called in the troops. Sent the novel to my mother and pleaded with her to read it and tell me the most awful plot-hole-disaster bits so I could focus on fixing them before sending the manuscript off a week later.

That was Thursday night. On Friday, when I took the kids over to see her as usual she had to tear herself away from reading the book. My book. Friday night she sent a copy over to my step-dad’s iPad and Saturday morning (early) I got a text to say he was so engrossed she couldn’t get a word out of him. That of course spurred my husband to start reading it again, the edited version this time. I have learned an important lesson about waiting to give out the edited version because he soon couldn’t put it down. (He sat in the car while I took the kids to an indoor play centre on Sunday on the excuse that he had a cold and it was too hot and noisy, when really he wanted to keep reading.)

By Sunday night everyone had finished it.

My step-dad (who isn’t an avid reader, but loved the Twilight series) said “Book 2 Please”.

“What about the plot holes?” I asked, perplexed.

“Well, apart from saying she’s never been camping in part 2 when part 1 pretty much opens with her camping on a hillside, we didn’t find any plot holes.”

“What about the ending? Doesn’t it all feel a bit forced?” It took weeks of agonizing to try to make sense of it all, with me cursing my Pantser habits all the while.

“Ending was great, it all made sense.”

I sat and stared, open mouthed.

So instead of spending this week desperately re-writing huge chunks of my novel I have been calmly tweaking the one or two weak scenes my husband highlighted. Today I printed out all 462 pages and posted it.

Dear manuscript, all my blessings go with you

Leaving me free to start NaNoWriMo tomorrow.

Of course, that’s a different ball game entirely. I was going to rework one of my romances for Nano this year, but now I’m thinking about starting a sequel to Dragon Wraiths. Who knows, unlikely as it seems to me, it might actually go somewhere.


What have I learned?

I’ve always been too scared to relinquish my work to a critique group for fear of being told to give up writing and go back to the day job. I know family members are biased, but my parents don’t give up their weekends lightly. If they read my book non-stop to the end it was because they wanted to. That must count for something. Maybe I need to have more faith in myself.

Writing is a solitary business and editing is worse because you don’t even really have your characters for company. It’s easy to forget what’s good about your novel. You get too close, you lose the ability to feel the suspense, to be swept up in the drama.

My advice? When you have torn your novel apart and rebuilt it from the ground up, and you still think it stinks, remember – ask for a fresh opinion. You might just be pleasantly surprised.


9 thoughts on “Always get a second opinion

  1. So true! While, I do look to my mom to be gentle on what needs to be improved, I let my dad rip the book to shreds. With my fantasy novel, not yet released, he didn’t do that. He was full of praise and encouragement to get it published. 🙂

    Now, my critique group, on the other hand, is who I look to when I want to find those plot holes and bits of confusion. 🙂 Then I am challenged to balance what they say with what I feel is true and needing to be changed. ALWAYS the challenge.

    • My husband is my critique partner on most things, but he does have a tendency of never pointing out the positives, just the negatives! We’ve been working on his delivery… 🙂

      The balance is the thing, isn’t it? I used to take every piece of criticism as gospel and then I realised it’s just their opinion and it has to be balanced against my own opinion. My problem is I have very low self esteem so it’s easy to believe the criticism. What is it Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman, “the bad stuff’s easier to believe”. So true.

  2. This is so true!
    Like you, I don’t think my writing is ever good enough to share, but once I worked up the nerve to show it to some other writers I was flabbergasted by their enthusiasm! I think I might be so focused on what needs work that I forget all about what does work.

    I love the blog BTW. Following. 🙂

    • Thank you for coming by, I love your blog! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. When I started writing I had more confidence but wrote worse prose. I was just impressed that I managed to write anything. Now I read lots of blogs on writing craft I have a better idea of what makes good writing, so all I see is the things I don’t do well, rather than the things I do that are just fine. In fact, since the great reception of Dragon Wraiths (albeit just from family) I’m starting to think I could go too far the other way and spend ages fixing something that isn’t broken.

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