When I counted every person who had critiqued the chapter I blogged about last week, I calculated twenty. Never before have I had that large of a critique group, and never before has my writing changed so drastically from start to finish.
Over two months ago, before another pair of eyes had seen that chapter, I’d rewritten it a dozen times. I was not satisfied with the result, but I didn’t know what else to do with it. Then came the residency program (the class I also mentioned last week) and I came home with a stack of critiques. One month later, with a little encouragement, I began working toward a contest for first chapters, and I found myself asking for even more critiques, this time from new readers.
When those critiques came in, I was blown away by the depth my writing friends had gone to discuss improvements for my entry. Their dedication to the favor I had asked was truly humbling.
Eventually, all but one of the critiques were in, and it was now just me, the computer, and the insight of nineteen writers whom I respected. To be honest, I was confused. The contest deadline was two days away and something in the back of my mind was saying the new and improved chapter was not there yet. I’d look at the chapter and compare it to a bobbing duck: maybe it was actually dead, but then again, it could still pop up and surprise everyone. But what was else was I to do with it? As much as I didn’t want to waste everyone’s hard work, I couldn’t justify submitting an entry that I felt was not what it should be.
Then, at the eleventh hour, the last critique came in, offering a piece of advice that I’d heard once before…months before. As uncomfortable as the truth was, I knew the advice was absolutely right because it was what my gut instinct had been trying to say before I’d muffled it with crumpled old drafts.
So I rolled up my sleeves, brewed some coffee, and pulled out my literary ax.
Hours before the deadline, my chapter was down from seven pages to three. Knowing I had done all that I could to objectively interpret, filter, and adapt twenty people’s advice for my entry, I hit the submit button.
To be honest, I tried to forget about the contest. Then this past Thursday, I got a phone call informing me that I had finalized in the contest. Talk about a pleasant surprise! And while I couldn’t stop grinning for ten minutes after the news, I knew my entry had not finalized because of me.
So, writing friends–and you know who you are!–thank you. No writer ever stands alone. You encouraged me to do more than I would have on my own, and I’m grateful for your red ink and golden hearts.