As an unpublished (or even published) writer, the internet can be a very useful tool. That thought may come across as “the internet will help you find job and/or get yourself published”, but while that can be true, that’s not what I’m referring to. Getting published and making money doing something you love is great—wonderful even, but something comes before that, in my opinion.
What am I talking about?
Writing + Internet = ?
It’s not a cement concept I’m talking about here, but in simple terms, the internet can help you grow as a writer. How exactly? That’s where the idea gets murkier. You have to choose wisely where to “train” your skills, so to speak, on the internet. When you’re uploading your own material for others to critique, anyone can say anything. In spite of that, as a writer you should be able to take positive points even from the most wantonly negative feedback as well as the positive. Some people may simply pat you on the back for what you’ve written. There’s merit in that sort of thing, but it’s rather small. Encouragement is key for new writers to grow. After all, if you don’t have faith in your writing yet, having someone tell you it’s good is a vital step in the growing process.
Of course, what you really want to find is good constructive criticism. This can be difficult to find, but odds are that if you’ve shown your writing to anyone before, it’s been your friends and family. Sometimes that can be great, but it’s hard to get unadulterated feedback from your personal acquaintances (unless your personally know a writer or editor). Whenever my mother or grandmother happen to read something of mine, there’s a disproportionate amount of positive as opposed to negative. That’s natural, and that’s why it’s key to find unbiased, educated feedback on your work.
If you write unopposed, you’ll never grow as a writer.
That sounds like an odd term to use, doesn’t it? Unopposed. I thought for a moment when I typed that, and I think the word fits perfectly. As a writer, you are trying to convince your readers that you’re good at what you do. It’s a battle of personal skill, and it never ends. Even established authors receive terrible reviews. The aim is to convince the majority of your readers that you know your stuff. You can never get everyone. Look at someone like Stephanie Meyer who wrote what is probably the most influential and popular book series of the modern generation. Some people absolutely love the Twilight saga, and some think it’s absolute rubbish. I don’t mean to argue for or against how skilled of a writer Stephanie is—the point is that she hit her audience hard. There will always be haters, but in the end, if the majority of your audience loves what you’ve done? You’ve succeeded in what you set out to do.
But what’s all this business about your writing being “opposed”? Like I said above, you’re fighting for your readers’ respect in a way. To be successful in that endeavor, you want to bulk up your writing muscles. Any skill is like a muscle, and writing is no different. You practice continuously—and eventually the muscle grows. However, if you want successful exercise in this sense, you need resistance, tension, something pushing back against your effort. This is where the internet can come in.
You’re not alone out here. There are thousands upon thousands of people who want to do exactly what you want to do. That’s a blessing in one way, and a curse in another. It’s a curse in that it’s difficult not to become lost in the flood; you have to fight to stand out. It’s a blessing in that you have many, many peers who are helpful and willing to aid in your growth as a writer. This input comes in many forms, but one of the strongest applets you have available to you is the public writing community.
If you noticed the title of this post, what you’re reading is a prologue. This will be a series, highlighting different writing communities across the web and the pros and cons of each of them. The purpose of this first post is to explain the merit behind using writing communities, while the installments following this will review various writing communities. Simple, right?
The difficult thing is using the internet in general correctly as a tool to improve your writing. It’s going to take effort and intuition on your part to find useful beta readers, critique, etc. On any given writing community, you can very well find a fellow writer who might be willing to read over your work in order to give you many forms of constructive criticism. Everyone is at a different writing level, so while one person may be able to help point out grammatical errors and minor things, another might be able to give insight into much deeper matters, such as character development and plot. It’s up to you to find the right person, and that can be a challenge in its own right.
I once talked quite a bit with a fellow writer—a young guy about a year younger than me. As soon as I met him, I could tell he thought quite a bit of himself. I can see that in people, because while I may not think “I’m hot stuff”, I can be relatively hardheaded and opinionated. I know how to be tactful, but at the same time, I have no problem telling people what I think. I’ve done a lot of critiquing myself for other writers, and I think I’m fairly helpful in that sense. I can sit down and tell someone “This is off”, but at the same time I can see why they wrote what they did. I can see the merit in it, regardless of execution. I always try to do something when I read over someone’s work to give them constructive criticism; I highlight how they can take the idea they are trying to convey to their reader, and make it stronger and more relatable.
This may or may not be him, but the idea of the attitude is clear enough.
When it came to this young man I was in contact with, like I said, I could see the kind of personality he had. Still, he wasn’t a terrible writer, and I’m open to all the criticism I can get. He read over a chapter of my novel Children of Solus and gave me some reasonable thoughts. At this point I thought “Hey, this guy is cool”, and a month or so later he messaged me, bored and wondering if I had anything that I wanted read over and criticized. Since he offered, I sent him a couple short stories. Awesome, right?
Not quite. In a setting where he had the Word document in front of him, and the ability to type his comments beneath each chunk of written story, his true colors were shown. I understand some critics are quite harsh, and I’ve received relatively harsh feedback. In fact, I like harsh feedback, because when I read it, I have to argue with myself why each comment against my writing is wrong. Sometimes those arguments in my head aren’t very strong. Sometimes they have holes. That’s when I have to take a step back and say “Okay, that’s actually a really good point”. In the end, it augments my writing and makes it better.
However when it came to this guy, he basically tore open every point he could possibly convince himself was “wrong”. To illustrate how petty he was, he wrote an entire paragraph bashing the fact that an eight-year-old said thank you, claiming that the simple phrase of “thank you” didn’t fit that age, and that it made the reader think the character was a teenager. He even ignored the fact that the child had a strict upbringing. No child says thank you, huh? All the while, he was so terrible at interpreting the simplest concepts that he didn’t even discern that the “thank you” he ranted about so much was said in a sarcastic manner. It was an incredibly simple concept within a story that was written in a very dumbed down fashion from a child’s perspective.
Still, any insight can be useful, and a few of the things he brought out I did consider into an ongoing second draft. Funny enough, the next criticism he brought out basically told me “You’re stupid and wrong” concerning the title of a certain therapist in the story. Little did he know I’ve personally been to psychologists and psychiatrists too many times to count, yet here he was telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, and to do some personal research before I make things up. From this point alone, I could tell he was a know-it-all.
Still, like I said, even the most uselessly cynical of criticism can aid you in your writing—you just have to grow some thicker skin. I replied to him, explaining certain points that I did not agree with him on, explained my personal experience with therapists, and I thanked him for his effort and the points that he did bring to my attention that I agreed with (even though after the first section of the story, he decided “This sucks, you need to rewrite the whole thing” and didn’t even read the last three quarters of it). He came back at me swearing and generally being an ass, telling me my story was Jr. High level at best, along with a slew of other needlessly hurtful comments. The fact that I even slightly criticized his criticism just made him flip out. I can’t imagine how this guy takes criticism on his own stories.
Don't let overly negative feedback affect you.
Obviously I found someone who was not a very good critic. I knew my story had issues (I wrote it over the course of a single night), and certainly needed cleaning up, but the points he picked on were terrible. I could have read it over myself and created better arguments with myself. Still, the entire thing kind of shook my faith in myself. I know I’m a pretty good writer. There’s a lot of room for growth, but I know I don’t write Jr. High quality work. Regardless, I felt like crap for a few days after until I showed the story to a trusted friend of mine who not only writes, but also is a talented comic artist. She’s tough too, and she pulled apart things as well, but they were useful things. Through her input, I know that when I do sit down to create the second draft, it’s going to be a lot better.
That’s the thing when it comes to this subject. You have to glean good criticism from bad, and negative doesn’t equal bad. Odds are that facets of your stories suck. When someone points them out, hopefully they do so in a tactful way, but even if they don’t, you need to take their input with a grain of salt. Your writing will benefit. All the while, look for markers in the personalities of people who criticize you. If they’re acting like a holier-than-thou know-it-all, you’re probably not going to get very useful criticism. Looking back at my bad experience, the only written material the guy had online were political rantings and mediocre poetry. It’s smart to look at written work of someone who might review your writing. If their writing sucks, they might not be able to help you much.
In the next installment, I’ll talk about a writing community that I have quite a bit of experience in, called WritersCafe.org. Be sure to follow me or check back soon for an in depth review on the first writing community in this series!