I spent a lot of time searching blogs and support websites for advice when I began writing my ‘practice novel’. (Of course, I didn’t realise back then it was a practice novel.) It was daunting to discover how much I had to learn, but reassuring to find I wasn’t alone in trying to swim before I could doggy-paddle.
By the time I came across the concept of the practice novel, I had put my finished first draft to one side while I tried my hand at short story writing, but I needed some impartial feedback. I didn’t have confidence to look for a local writers’ group and actually read my work to people I would have to meet again.
Scribophile was the first online writing community I came across (other online writing communities are available).
Scribophile is US-based, but attracts English-speaking members from around the world, including many in the UK. Members gain karma points by critiquing others’ work and spend their karma on posting their own writing.
I joined Scribophile, aiming to lurk on the sidelines while I gathered my courage.
Reading others’ critiques was an education in itself.
Not that I’d compare others’ opinions with my own – in fact, I came to realise how little I was taking from what I read. Before Scribophile, I didn’t understand how different one reader’s interpretation can be from another’s, and I learned why I should form my own opinion before reading the critiques of others.
Dipping a toe
The website pressed me to contribute sooner than I’d intended. But some of the critiques seemed little more than proof-reading; I could do that – couldn’t I?
Feeling like the blind leading the short-sighted, I proof-read someone’s work, and wasn’t ejected from the site.
Next time, I was bold enough to add comments – even a suggestion.
I posted my own work and the sky didn’t fall. Yes – there was criticism, but nobody suggested I take up knitting.
I looked up the credentials of my critiquers – I won’t call them critics as this would give a false impression of the helpful comments people had taken time to offer. I read some of their work, which I wouldn’t otherwise have read, as they were different from my usual preferred reading.
One wrote in a stripped-down, Raymond Carver style (a shark?). It was he who had suggested my prose was flowery.
Another reader, who composed poetry, had advocated more description (an angelfish?).
Both made valid points. But I now had more context to help in my application of their feedback.
I soon discovered my habit of beginning each sentence with a double-space marked me as a typewriter dinosaur, although my informants never actually said as much. Tact is another useful skill honed in reading groups.
Some members were so anxious not to offend that their critiques read like mutual appreciation scripts. They taught me to be more appreciative of my honest critics, and braver with my own critiques – which is a challenge when you can’t use smiles or body language to soften the words.
Into the ocean
Having shared my scribblings, my confidence improved and I wanted more. I signed up to a writing workshop and began to enter competitions. (Sometimes these offer basic feedback for a small payment.)
Competitions are the main reason I now spend less time on Scribophile – and there are only so many hours in a day, even in retirement.
Competitions generally stipulate that entries have not been previously published – which includes online publication. Although only members can sign in to Scribophile and read the stories there, the competition judge may be a member, so check with the organisers before sharing your entry with an online community for feedback.
I have now joined a local U3A (University of the Third Age) creative writing group . None of us are high fliers, but our monthly ‘homework’ has encouraged me to tackle themes and formats I might would otherwise have avoided. And it makes me work to a deadline.
We plan to publish a collection of these later in the year – more about that nearer the time.
You can find Scribophile at www.scribophile.com but don’t do what I did and join the first web-group you find. An online search will find other writing communities and there is sure to be one that feels right for you.
Does anyone have other recommendations for a nervous beginner seeking feedback? I’d love to hear from you.