Prompt: "You can't keep submitting the same chapter!"

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{The following is the work of 50 minutes. I don't recall where exactly my timer ran out, but I was on a roll, so I just started it over again.}

"Dang it, Carl! You can't keep submitting the same chapter."

Carl flinched. A collective groan rose from the rest of those seated at the table at Kim's proclamation.

"Everything all right back here?" Evelyn, the middle-aged bookstore owner piked her head through the door into the meeting room.

"We're fine," Kim said. He scooted his chair back from the table. "I'll be back in a minute. I have to go get something from my car."

"Oh," Evelyn said as Kim pushed past her. "Kay...?"

She looked back over her shoulder until the bell on the front door of the shop chimed. "What's going on with him?" she asked, turning back to the group.

"I have no idea," said Molly.

"He probably had a rough day," said Carl.

"Well, he does have a valid point." Nancy stood up, holding Carl's submission up for all to see. "This is the third time in a row you've submitted this chapter. I could understand if this were the last chapter of your book and you were trying vastly different endings, but this is only your second chapter."

"Second chapters are notoriously difficult," Nickie said in monotone, staring at the sweat that was collecting on the outside of her glass and dampening the coaster as if it the condensation had her hypnotized. "I mean, anyone can write a first chapter, but a second chapter..."

At first, Carl thought she'd stopped mid-sentence, then realized it was supposed to be a question. Why were young people so hard to read?

"I, for one, am getting sick of reading this over and over again. You haven't even made substantial changes, bro," Mark said.

{There might be too many people in this writing group for their critique process}

"But I need—"

"You need to move on." Kim's voice preceded him into the room. "You need to get past your fear of making a mistake and just get the thing going."

"But—"

Kim dropped a paper onto the table in front of Carl.

"When we started this group, this is what you said you wanted to get out of it. Do you want to read it out to everyone or shall I?"

Kim stood there, arms crossed. He seemed to fill up half the room, but it must have been Carl's imagination.

"I-I wanted the accountability to write often, focus on my novel, and push forward," Carl said. He felt smaller and smaller every moment. "I also wanted feedback on my writing, but that was secondary to the accountability."

"And would you say that submitting the same chapter three turns in a row fits within that vision?" Kim demanded.

"No." He'd been stupid. He'd wrecked his chance at connecting with local writers, and now they were going to kick him out.

"Good," Kim said, "Now does anyone else have a chapter we can critique?"

{Add another person or two getting their chapters critiqued}

A fly buzzed in the window casement, getting nowhere but sticking to the same corner anyway.

"I don't have it printed," Molly said, but I have my chapter for next week done. It's on my flash drive."

"Good," Kim said, "Go see if Evelyn can print off some copies for us."

Should he pack his things and go? Or maybe stick around and critique Molly's work, then never show his face around her again? Molly *had* given him valuable feedback on his second chapter the first time he submitted it, and on the first chapter, too. He had hoped, truth be told, that he might get the courage to ask her out to coffee sometime—nothing too serious—but that would never happen now.

Carl sipped his water and sat. Nickie still stared at the drops on her glass. Was she all there? He hadn't had the chance to talk to her much yet.

Molly returned, triumphant. She held a small stack of stapled manuscript chapters. She passed them out to everyone at the table, starting with Carl.

He glanced up. She was smiling, and even winked at him before she walked back to her side of the table holding the last copy.

His decision was made for him.

She took a drink of iced tea and cleared her throat, then began to read.

Carl and the others read along with her, making their notes on their own copies for her to look at later. As she finished her reading, Carl glanced up at the clock. Even after having to print off the chapter, it wasn't much later than usual, maybe ten minutes.

Molly sat and the critiquing began. They circled around the table, giving feedback and either agreeing or disagreeing with each other's opinions. Carl didn't say much; Nickie said most of his points before he got the chance. Maybe she girl *was* paying attention.

Or maybe Carl just sucked. Either way, his feedback seemed unnecessary this evening.

After a while, the discussion died out. They'd talked enough. Molly was busy scribbling notes onto her own copy, just to remember what everyone had said. Some of them, Carl included, had disastrous handwriting. So even though they passed their copies with their notes back to her, she'd probably benefit most from the notes she was writing then.

"Now then," Kim said, "As Molly took her turn early, we'll be counting on you next week, Carl." He gave Carl a pointed look. "So even if it's not Chapter Three, bring in *something* new that we've never seen before."

Wait. What?

"And I would like to make a movement that we accept no piece of writing two turns in a row, and no more than three times total. That should keep Carl moving forward without banning necessary resubmissions. All in favor say 'aye.'"

A chorus of "aye"s went up around the table. Carl said nothing.

"All those opposed, same sign."

There was no sound, except for the fly, which had escaped the window casement and now buzzed above their heads.

***

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