The First Critique Group
All month long, in the June heat, Thomas sat at his desk, scratching out the first draft. It was National June Writing Month, and he had to finish the entire manuscript by the 30th. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow, jumping up to pace across the room. He jerked to a stop and stared beyond the growing pile of crumpled papers before he moved his gaze to the opened window, aware of the sounds of traffic below, but too immersed in his manuscript to consider it an interruption. "I've got it," he said. Excitement shivered through him. "I've got the end."
He rushed to his desk and wrote long into the night, finishing just as the clock struck five on June 28. He wrote out a text message and it was delivered to two of his critique partners, John and Benjamin. "I've finished my manuscript and I need to do a pre-read right away. Can you meet me?"
Benjamin and John agreed to meet him at the local Starbucks and listened as Tom read the pages aloud.
"Wow, Tom, that is fabulous." Benjamin said, "Absolutely fabulous. Except, I really don't think that second paragraph does it for me. Do you think you could change that?"
Thomas' shoulders sank. Of course, he'd wanted them to love it. He'd wanted them to say it was perfect. He'd wanted them to say, "Tom, it is ready for publication." But, the moment Benjamin pointed out that second paragraph, Thomas knew Benjamin was right. He'd have to change it.
"I agree with Ben,"John said, "Except you also lost me on that fourth paragraph where you start doing an information dump. And you repeated the word "freedom" about six times. You'll need to think of a few different ways of saying that."
Thomas gathered up his manuscript, nodding and sighing, and thanked his critique friends. Except for one or two things that he truly believed were just right the way they were, the rest he would change. He shuffled back home and up to his study. He opened the ink and began his revisions.
He worked on them for the next two days, writing and rewriting until perfection stared back at him. He smiled. They are going to love it, he thought.
The next morning, July 1, he headed off to work, his manuscript in the trunk, and let his mind drift to the regular meeting of his entire critique group. This would be a terrific night. It would be the night they said, "Tom, start trying to find an agent."
He whistled as he walked into the meeting, and sank onto the hard wooden chair, arranging his manuscript in a neat pile.
"Let's let Tom read first everyone," Benjamin announced. "I really think he has something there and I think you'll think so too."
Thomas read to the silent room, and when he finished, the entire critique group burst into applause. Never had Thomas felt such a thrill. Then Samuel said, "That is a great first draft, Tom. Excellent."
"Now, in that fourth paragraph, I'd like to see you take out some of that wording. It sounds like a lot of information dump. And are you aware you repeated the word "freedom" three times?"
And so it went, more changes, more revisions, more re-writes. He groaned.
"Geeeeez, Tom, if you don't like our suggestions, that's okay, it is just that it is hard to get something published in today's market," Benjamin said.
"Yes, I know," Tom agreed, a decided lack of enthusiasm coloring his voice.
"He could always try self-publishing," George said.
"I'll do the revisions," Tom said. "And maybe I will self-publish." He took the work-in-progress home and over the next couple of days, carefully revised, read, revised, read and revised. He brought it back to the group on July 4, 1776. His fingers shook and his voice cracked as he read it aloud. When he was finished, the members of his critique group nodded.
"I think you are ready for publication, Thomas," they all said, slapping him on the back and breaking out a bottle of champagne. "Let's all sign this copy and go down to Kinkos."
And that is the story of how our Declaration of Independence came to be. I'm not exactly sure about Starbucks or Kinkos. But I know exactly how Thomas Jefferson felt every time he thought he had it finished, only to be told by his critique group to get back to revisions.
Thanks to all the critique groups out there that help an author succeed. A special thanks to the Dead Bunny Club, my own critique group.
Happy Independence Day