Are online writing workshops worth the trouble? I suppose if you’ve got major publishing contracts smacking you in the face because you happen to be blessed with flawless talent, then perhaps no. But since this is the real world, and even the most distinguished writers can use a little help from time to time, the workshops are the way to go. Critique Circle, Scribophile and Writer’s Café are just a few of the workshops you’ll find on the web. What do they offer, you ask? Here goes my list again….
1. Getting your work edited essentially for free
You’re toiling away at this chapter for DAYS, and after a while, you’re beginning to question whether or not you’ve spelled 1st grade vocab words like ‘the’ correctly. Sound familiar? You need feedback and you’re so desperate for it, you’d consider having your sister’s brother’s niece’s friend’s eleven-year old cousin read it (she offered at her 2-year-old sister’s birthday party after all). An enticing offer since every other time you show up with that 5 lb. stack of papers you call a manuscript at friend and family barbecues, they all scatter like high school kids at a keg party after the cops arrive. Part of the problem? It looks like a master’s thesis and at this point, probably reads like one too.
This is where the workshops can help. Imagine a fantastical world where experts are chomping at the bit to get their greasy hands on that juicy turkey bone of a manuscript you own. Ok, that’s a bit far-fetched. But you will find eager readers who are jonesin’ to get their stuff posted, even if it means having to lumber through yours first. Hey, it’s better than having to beg, right?
My personal favorite is Scribophile, though Critique Circle works much the same way. Membership is free, but you can upgrade and enjoy additional benefits of the site. The beauty of both of these sites is the currency in which they are founded. You earn points to post your writing by critiquing others. In turn, your work is guaranteed at least 3 critiques. Whohoo! Finally, a little attention!
Make no mistake, these sites are not only comprised of wanna-be authors desperate to get out of their day jobs (who, me?). You’ll also find a delightful assortment of real-life writing professionals such as freelancers, editors, teachers and those with graduate-level training who are just as interested in feedback as anyone else. Grammar and punctuation aren’t the only issues that will be addressed in your writing. You can also expect feedback on plot and character development, pacing and tension; all the cogs that power a great story.
If you’re considering publication (and who isn’t these days?) this is a great way to get a glimpse at what the big dogs in New York are going to think of your work before you send it off.
2. Social Networking
If you missed what this benefit means to me, check out my prior post, Baby Steps, and you’ll see why this one soars to the top of my list.
Writing is a solitary activity. Even if you prefer to do it in the company of strangers by sitting in the local coffee shop, chances are, you’re not there to chat it up with the other patrons. Take a look around, writers are often times sitting in the farthest corner of the room, earphones plugging out the world, noses buried in laptops with expressions that warn, “Approach me about anything and I’ll annihilate you with laser beams.” Even the busboy heeds the threat.
This is exactly why writers need to get off their calloused duffs and make some human connections.
So long as you can take serious criticism for your work without plotting vengeance in return, workshops are a place where beautiful friendships can be forged. I describe it as stumbling upon a huge playground where everyone wants to play the same game and they all know how to share. And if you’re lucky, you’ll come across some gems that you socially bookmark. Yes, this is where I insert a shameless shout-out to my personal gems: N.B. Charles, JABelfield, and Aimee Laine.
From these brilliant writers, I’ve learned not only based on the critiques they’ve given me, but from their critiques I can read for others on the site as well. Some, I’m just inspired by their personal stories that don’t sound too far from my own. The advice is fruitful; the encouragement and camaraderie, priceless.
3. Gaining Confidence
Am I good enough to get published? Should I even bother?
I can’t tell you how many times this has rattled the cage of my mind. We all have our insecurities, but it couldn’t be any more obvious for writers than if we painted our faces and dressed like clowns. I never formally studied writing in college, and I still can’t tell you when to appropriately use whom versus who in all cases. All I know is that I love to write.
Family, friends and coworkers might go so far as to give you the candid responses you’re looking for. But if you really want to know the answer to this question before you toss that bloody t-bone out to the lions, ask the ones who will give it to you straight. There’s a sense of validation when another writer offers a thumbs up for your work. Even if you can’t seem to tackle New York, you have the confidence of knowing someone somewhere in the world thinks you’re good enough. And by golly, that’s something.
Scribophile allows you to post and repost darn near an infinite number of times (though I’ve not personally tested the infinity part), so your writing has the opportunity to gleam with polish by the time its ready to send off. If you stick with the site, you’re guaranteed to become a better writer by editing the work of others. In time, you’ll develop special Agent Goggles and for the first time, you’ll understand why it was so important to get feedback to begin with (whoa, what was I thinking when I wrote this??). That alone is worth its salt.
If you decide to join Scribophile, I highly recommend checking out Critiquing 101—Words of Wisdom in 5 Easy Steps by Aimee Laine. It takes the fright out of the whole process by giving insight into what to look for before you delve into someone else’s work. A great article for newbie critiquers.