I’ve taught numerous creative writing and “how to get published” classes at local libraries. I always stress the importance of getting feedback on your work. The paragraph might sparkle on your computer screen. You’ve never been more proud of anything you’ve ever written. You read it ten times, it is just amazing…and then someone else reads it and has no idea what you’re trying to say. You know what you want to convey, so your mind might blind you to mistakes. This is where different sets of eyes become handy tools. Critique partners make awesome resources, as do writing websites.
On most writing websites, you paste a portion of your work into a queue for others to read and give you their feedback. I’ve gotten up to fifty comments on one chapter. I won’t use all of the feedback, but I will consider each comment and see if I can apply it to the story. Some of the comments fly in from left field, especially if I’m posting a later chapter and readers have no idea who my characters are, and those I tuck away.
A problem with writing websites is that readers can hide behind the mask of anonymity, a common problem with any Internet interaction. I have gotten some truly nasty comments, and those commenters who don’t try to build you up, who see no good in your work, who want to squash the competition, well, I consider them the villains of this tale. Here are ten of my more memorable interactions with these villains:
1. “You can’t put a sentence together.” How supportive! I asked for clarification on what she found awkward in my sentences, and she never replied.
2. “You just wasted my time with your crap.” Only he didn’t use “crap.” As with any writing website, you need to be prepared to meet newbies and professional writers. Writing you might not like comes with the territory. Sorry you didn’t like my work. Feel free to stop reading so I don’t waste more of your time.
3. “Quit writing now. You’re hopeless.” This one cut deep. I already had a few books published and had developed a thicker skin. I hate to think of how a newbie would react. Would they really quit writing? Sure, the selection might not be strong, but I believe that with effort, you can polish any piece of writing. Any newbie can learn to be a professional. No one should stop something they’re passionate about - and no one should tell someone to quit.
4. “The squirrels will get you.” This guy mentioned squirrels every few sentences. I think he was going for cute, but the references didn’t fit with his comments and made it hard for me to follow what he was suggesting I do.
5. “Make these changes and email me your manuscript so I can make sure you did what I said to do.” Micromanage much? She sent me private messages demanding I do this, even after I thanked her and said I wouldn’t be following through with all of her suggestions. It just wasn’t the direction in which I wished to take the story.
6. “Change your world to THIS.” You can’t change the world in book three, not after it has already been established in a published series. His ideas were cool, but it made it a different story and the world wouldn’t have been a steampunk western anymore.
7. “I can see how you’re just self-published. None of this is good.” Way to knock self-published authors; I know some personally who rock. When I told him I wasn’t self-published, he called me a liar.
8. “Add adverbs. Use ‘was’ more often…” I’ve gotten bad advice like this a lot. I thank them and move on, but sometimes they keep pushing. I point out how stronger writing doesn’t use “was” or adverbs, and I disconnect myself before the debate becomes too heated.
9. “Take an English class. Take a grammar class.” Thanks, I actually teach both. Would you like to come sit in on one?
10. “I think I’ll make this one my own…” Okay, so this individual didn’t send me that, but I assume that’s what went through her head. I had pasted my query letter for feedback, and while later, those who had read it messaged me to say someone was pasting a query almost identical. The owner of the site (now no longer functioning) looked into this. Anytime you share something, there is this risk. The other author and I both sent the site owner our stories, and she let us know the stories were 99% dissimilar. The other author had recognized some similarities and decided to use my query letter as her own because of all the positive feedback mine had garnered.
Don’t be scared of writing websites. You can find great readers and your writing can improve tenfold thanks to the comments. Be prepared, though, to find some villains.
Note: My favorite writing websites are Critique Circle and Absolute Write Water Cooler.