Posting a day early this week due to the 4th of July holiday weekend here in the States. For this week’s post I wanted to give a shout out to the one site that has probably done more than any other to help improve my writing. And that is the critiquing website Scribophile. I am sure there are many other critiquing sites out there, but this is the one I tried, and I couldn’t be happier. So if you’re not on Scribophile yet, what are you waiting for?
I was initially hesitant to sign up for Scribophile, not so much because I was concerned about people critiquing my work, but because I was nervous about critiquing other people’s work. And to ensure that everyone is doing their fair share, Scribophile requires that you critique other people’s work before you can get your own work critiqued. This is done through a “karma” system. You earn karma by writing critiques, which you can then spend to post your own work for others to critique.
I got off to a slow start on the site, again because I was a little nervous/uncertain about critiquing other people’s work. I mean, I’m still working to get confident with my own writing, so what possible input could I have on someone else’s? But the site has some solid documentation on the critiquing process and how to give a good critique. And once I read through my first story to critique, I realized that I did have valid input I could make about their story. As I’ve done more critiques, I’ve become more comfortable doing them, and more confident that I’m helping other writers to improve their craft (which is a great feeling, by the way).
More and more I really like Scribophile’s karma system. It eliminates those people who would simply post all of their own work for critique, without bothering to critique anyone else’s work, which I think makes for a more vibrant, active site. And realizing you’re helping other writers improve can be a very rewarding experience. I also think you can learn from critiquing others’ work just as you can learn from having your own works critiqued.
Nothing But Positive Experiences
The things I’ve learned about my writing from the critiques I’ve received has been astounding. Sometimes it’s very simple suggestions/observations that can have a huge impact on your writing quality – for example, I learned that I had a very bad habit of using parentheses in my writing. This may be okay for a blog post or a newsletter, or other more casual writing, but as I learned, in the context of fiction it weakens your writing, and should absolutely be avoided. This was a bad habit I’d had for years without really realizing I was doing it, much less realizing it was a problem. But once it was pointed out to me, I went through my current stories and rewrote every sentence that had parentheses. And the improvement to my prose was noticeable.
As I’ve cleaned up/improved on the little, obvious weak areas of my writing, I have been able to move on the bigger, more complex areas of improvement. For me this includes a tendency to tell instead of show (that gravest of all writing sins). And the critiques I’ve gotten on Scribophile have really helped to show exactly where and how much I’m doing these things.
The main key that makes a critiquing site (or any good critiquing group you may be a part of) more useful than a writing course or book is that it is directly tied to your writing. A book can inform you to show don’t tell, to avoid adverbs or passive voice, to be wary of dialogue tags, or any of the many other valid suggestions that fill up books on writing. But what these books can’t do is tell you exactly where in your prose you’re making these mistakes, or offer suggestions on how to fix/improve them. Books can also instruct you on such concepts as character development or story structure, but they can’t tell you which of these areas your story is weak or strong in. A good critique can do all that.
I don’t know about other critique sites/groups, but with Scribophile I have had nothing but positive experiences with the critiques of my work. Everyone is very respectful, and very much there to help your writing improve. Even the harshest criticisms I have received have all been written to help me find the weak areas of my writing and make them stronger. I haven’t always agreed with everything every critique has said, but it always at least gives me something to think about.
Why Wouldn’t You Join?
I’ve known a few writers who were very resistant to the idea of joining a critiquing group, and it always makes me shake my head. I get that some people have a harder time dealing with criticism than others, even constructive criticism. I also know there are people out there who aren’t really looking for constructive criticism, they’re looking for validation. They want someone to tell them their writing is good, to make them feel better about themselves as writers.
To that first group, I say this – if you plan to publish, you’re going to face criticism of your work, whether you like it or not. And not only are the people on Scribophile going to be a lot more polite/respectful/constructive in their criticism than the average Amazon reviewer, but you’re receiving that criticism at a much more important phase of your writing, namely before it gets published. So your best bet is to suck it up and start accepting that criticism early in the process, so you can make your writing as strong as it can be before you go to publish.
To that second group, all I can say is get over yourself. If you just want someone to tell you what a good job you did (whether what you’ve written is good or not), then let your mom read it. I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to give you a feel-good response. But if you want to get serious as a writer (and especially if you dream of someday being a published author), then you need to accept that not every response to your writing is going to be positive, and that no matter how good you are, you can always get better. And most importantly, you need to accept that criticism of your work isn’t criticism of you, and that constructive criticism isn’t meant to tear you down, it’s meant to show you where you have room to improve. Reading a critical response to your writing from an unbiased third party is a great way to find those weak areas so that you can improve on them.
So if you’re a writer, and you’re not on Scribophile, I ask again, what are you waiting for? Please feel free to share your own Scribophile experience in the comments. Or if you use a different critiquing site, please share it! I’d love to know about other good sites out there.