What the Declaration of a Independence can teach us about the writing process

As I learn to navigate my way around blogging I try to make my posts timely. Last week, I wrote about Harry Potter on the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and it seemed to work well (even if no one read it). I’m not sure how to write a blog post about writing to 4th of July. 

But it’s really not that hard, when one thinks about it. Name another holiday that revolves around a document? There are 10 and a quarter federal holidays and it’s the only one that celebrates words written on paper.

That’s all well and good, but what can a writer take from that? It’s a little presumptuous to think that any of us would ever write anything that would stand the test of time the way the Declaration of Independence has. Outside of the Bible, it’s the most influential document in human history. But we can still learn a great deal from the process itself.

The Continental Congress established a committee of five to write the Declaration that committee than came up with a general outline and decided that Thomas Jefferson would write the first draft. He wrote a first draft and brought it back before the committee who made changes, which Jefferson incorporated before presenting the document to the Second Continental Congress. They would then make many more changes, removing nearly a fourth of its prose and removing a reference saying King George III forced slavery on the colonies. This sounds to me very much like how Breaking Bad would produce an episode of television. Starting with a group of writers, then having one person write the script which would then go through the hands of the director, the cast, and many others before the final product is realized. 

But I’m sure it sounds nothing like what most writers do when they attempt to produce a novel. They sit in their room, banging away on a typewriter or keyboard, reveling in their isolation. When it’s done they don’t revise or edit it before trying to get it published. They don’t have others read it and give critiques. And if they do, they rarely take the advice. I know I’m guilty of this myself. Worse, the only people I have read my work is friends or family who, while best intentioned, probably don’t have the heart to tell me the brutal truth about my work.

The one published novel I wrote was read and edited multiple times before I decided to self-publish it. Upon further readings, I still find mistakes and bad writing. When I submitted the first chapter to an online writing critique group, almost every reviewer said the same thing: the first sene has to go; the story starts in the second scene. As soon as I read it I knew they were right. So how did this get past me and all of my beta readers?

The simple truth is that a second set of unforgiving eyes is critically important for any writer. And it’s the hardest thing to find and cultivate. Who has time to go to a writing group once a month? And online sites are either inconsistent or require a monthly payment in addition to your contribution of critiques.

I recently finished going back to school and getting my degree. Throughout my adventure, whenever I had to post about what I liked most about my writing courses, I always said two things. One, I loved giving and receiving critiques. And two, I didn’t know where I would go to get those kinds of critiques after school was over. And I was right.

This time I really had no answers but I would love to hear from anyone about what they do to get input on their work.


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