Last year, I posted all of my David AU stories. If you haven't read them, they (non-spoiler; spoilers later, but they'll be noted) basically cover a four-year time span starting from the end of The Actor (altered, of course), by hitting three major events (in the multi-chapter stories) and a couple of minor events (in the short stories). In general, I've been rather pleased with them, as I've really enjoyed developing David and his experiences. The stories got more of an audience than I expected (after all, they're centered around an OC, and many of them have no canon characters at all; they are probably as close to original fiction as I'm ever likely to write), some of whom seemed to really enjoy them, which is gratifying.
In particular, one reader on ffnet started leaving very detailed reviews of the stories, actual real constructive criticism, which you know is extremely rare - almost all reviews only say that they liked the piece without saying why, with a rare few being bashes of the piece, again without giving reasons. I struck up a conversation with the reader (I'll call her Jane; I actually don't know her real name), and we've been chatting ever since over email, for over half a year now, I think. We talk over story and direction ideas, both hers and mine, and I'll often let her read WIPs to see what she thinks. One of the things that I really treasure about her is that she'll tell me when she doesn't like something, and she will tell me why. No one else will be honest with me about my writing when their opinion is negative, not even my husband.
Now, you might have noticed that I haven't posted anything new since November or so. It isn't because I haven't been writing. I have. I have probably twenty-five WIPs at the moment, and I keep poking at them, writing a couple of paragraphs in a random one every day. A good half of them are David-AU, because his story is still at the forefront of my mind and I have many stories planned for him, all along his timeline, interspersed among the four years that I've already written about as well as after that. The thing is, I haven't been able to concentrate on just one story, and I haven't been able to finish anything.
Why not? Well, for the canon stories, a lot of that has to do with actually preferring to work on the David-AU stories, so they tend to fall by the wayside. I have to redouble efforts on them for the two fic-a-thons I signed up for, but the other canon stories are languishing. But why haven't I concentrated on the David-AU stories, if that's what I really want to write? I figured it out recently, and I don't know what to do about it.
The problem is that my conversations with Jane have destroyed my self-confidence. It's not a matter of feeling that I have to write something that she'll like - because she tells me why she doesn't like something, I can weigh her opinion and decide what to do about it. I've had no problem deciding that she was wrong and posted things she didn't like without changing them. The problem is that she's been viewing the stories as a full arc and commenting on and making suggestions about story arc and character growth, and I've gotten to the point where I'm second-guessing what I'm planning.
Here's an example, and it's mildly spoilerific. David's best friend is Will. I designed Will to be an everyman, nothing particularly special and, especially, not companion-like - David has friends, not companions - so he isn't especially brave, ambitious, compassionate, brash, or independent. He has a career and hobbies, and is quite a geek - plays video games, loves superhero movies, etc. He knows what David is, but he doesn't treat David as anything special because of it - David's his best mate, and it doesn't matter to him that he's not human. In a way, Will is designed to be David's anchor.
Jane doesn't like Will. She finds him to be bland and uninteresting, and in a couple of cases, pointed out things he's done that she says shows that he's a terrible person and a poor friend. I can see the bland and uninteresting part, but I don't agree with the terrible person and poor friend part. It doesn't matter, though - I like Will, and while I am working to develop him further, I'm not going to change him wholesale to suit her.
There's another character, Ben, who is Will's co-worker and good friend, and who also is friends with David. Ben is one of those smart, confident, almost overbearing people. He's a geek like Will (shares a lot of his interests), and is a history buff as well. Though he wouldn't admit it, there's a part of him that doesn't like David, because if he ever challenges David in something, David always wins - usually these are arguments about history, which he feels he's an expert in.
I've written a short story about an interaction between the three of them, just a little fluff thing, but I realized after I wrote it that it illustrates both David's and Ben's personality, with Will relegated to the role of the blank wall against which the two of them are displayed. I thought to myself, "I don't want Ben to be more interesting than Will. Ben's a side character." And so now I'm sitting on the story, because I don't want Ben to overshadow Will. (I also realized that I will need to rewrite part of "Repercussions", because Ben was characterized incorrectly there, but I don't mind doing that.)
And that's the problem. I'm no longer confident in releasing new content in my AU. When I first posted the David-AU stories, they just told a loose arc about David's experiences. After discussing the AU with Jane, now I'm afraid to write and post. I'm scared that I'll write something that won't fit into a good arc, or that I'm not creating/developing good characters, or - and this is weird - that the more I write, the more likely a new, great idea will come to me but I won't be able to do it because I already established a precedent in a previous story that precludes it. I fear that I'm going to ruin my own AU.
What can I do about this? I used to write just to enjoy telling a story. Now I feel like what I write needs to be analyzed for every detail. And it's affecting my canon writing, too. What can I do to get back to the free writing I used to do?