Not so long ago, when you were ready to share your writing, your only option was to collect a few creative people with printouts of their manuscripts and bring them together in the same place. Many writers still critique this way—sitting together around a café table or living room. The feedback they receive and the relationships they build are an important part of their writing lives.
But today, we have more choices. The Internet offers possibilities most of us never imagined, and the evolution of critique forums is no exception. Some writers seem to think online critique groups are simply a fallback for those who can’t find an in-person group—but in fact, online forums offer their own unique set of advantages for critiquers. More and more writers are making active choices to critique online, and they’re reaping the benefits.
Whether you’re considering critiquing online, or already using these forums but wondering if you’re approaching them the best way, read on to find out how to master the domain.
Maximizing the Medium
Everybody has their reasons for communicating on the Web, from a tight schedule to a portable lifestyle to an introverted personality. Among the biggest advantages unique to the online critique format are:
FLEXIBILITY: When you critique online, you have no group meetings to schedule and no commute to receive feedback. You never have to spend precious writing time cleaning your house or preparing refreshments because it’s your turn to host the weekly meeting. Many online critiquers happily read manuscripts in their pajamas and bunny slippers. L.K. Madigan, author of Flash Burnout, says, “I don’t have time to meet regularly in person with a group, but I can always critique a manuscript and deliver the feedback, at 5:30 a.m. or 10 p.m.”
YOUR CHOICE OF GROUPS: Would you prefer to exchange feedback only with other writers who have firsthand experience with the ins and outs of your genre? Are you looking for critique partners who share the challenges of your lifestyle or routine—say, other working moms? Or do you want to find experts who can help you get your how-to book into shape? When you’re confined to your local area, it can be tough to find a group that matches your specific needs. Online, critique forums abound for every level of experience and every type of writing. Spend a little time searching, and you’ll find one that’s just the right fit.
FOCUS AND EFFICIENCY: Any group—in person or online—can be committed to serious critiquing and writing progress. Something happens, though, when you get rid of the coffeehouse lattes and the circle of chairs. Many writers active in online forums say critiquing across the Internet cuts down on chitchat and amps up productivity. “There are no wasted meetings, no meetings where we don’t discuss everyone’s work, no meetings where we veer off topic,” says Angie Fox, author of A Tale of Two Demon Slayers. What there is, in an online group, is critiquing.
Finding a Group
Let’s face it. The Internet is big. So once you’ve decided to critique online, where’s the best place to look for partners? If you don’t already have some potential candidates in mind, here are some good places to start your hunt.
TAKE AN ONLINE WORKSHOP. Online writing classes are some of the best places to connect with other writers looking to improve their craft. When choosing a course, look for one in which you’ll be submitting your writing for critique feedback from both the instructor and the other students. After spending six or eight weeks with these writers, you’ll have a strong idea of the group’s “chemistry,” how everybody writes and how they critique. When the class finishes, consider inviting a few favorites to start a separate critique group with you, or—if everybody works well together—you can all decide to continue what you’ve already started.
GET INVOLVED. Many online writing communities, such as Absolute Write (absolutewrite.com), have discussion boards where participants can talk about writing, publishing and, yes, critiquing. Some have a single forum where you can browse for openings in existing groups or post a note about looking for critique partners. Others offer an entire section of genre-based critique forums, where you can find and join established groups of children’s authors, memoirists, you name it. Many such groups implement a simple application process for writers interested in joining, so be sure to have a chapter or story ready to submit in case a writing sample is requested.
JOIN A CRITIQUE FORUM. If you are ready to start getting feedback and all you need are partners, consider joining a forum designed exclusively for online critiquing, such as Critique Circle (critiquecircle.com). Some of these forums are free, while others require a sign-up fee. These platforms typically have a structured system for you to critique other writers’ submissions and to receive feedback on your own work. At some sites, you’ll be asked to deliver a few critiques to start, until you’ve built up a “credit”—at which point you’ll be allowed to post your own writing. This ensures a balanced level of give and take so all members are participating equally. Other forums are managed in a more open style, with those writers who critique consistently being rewarded organically with a steady flow of feedback. “People who submit too much—without doing a commensurate amount of critiquing—soon find their submissions languishing,” says Gary Presley, assistant administrator for The Internet Writing Workshop (internetwritingworkshop.org). “There is an element of self-correction in any cooperative endeavor.”
Choosing the Right Partners
If you’re used to making friends face to face, meeting writers online can feel a bit intimidating. Shake yourself out of the old ways, and try these steps to find the best fit for you and your writing.
SET GOALS. What do you want in a critique group? Take an honest look at yourself—how much critiquing and writing you’ve done, how focused you are on a specific genre, and how much time you’ll be able to commit to reading and critiquing the work of your future partners. Give yourself the most honest answers possible and, as you browse for groups, see how well the authors and their writing mesh with what you’re hoping to get from the whole critiquing process—and with what you’re willing to give. A strong group can support writers with a wide range of skills and experience, but the more you know about yourself and your needs, the more likely you are to find the right group quickly.
TAKE TIME TO GET ACQUAINTED. When you decide to start critiquing online, don’t jump into the first group you find. If you’re exploring a writing community, stop in at a few of the forums designed for conversation, rather than critiquing, and start participating and connecting. If you sign up with a forum, go happily into any requirement that asks you to critique before being critiqued—it’s an opportunity to see what others are writing, to watch responses to your feedback, to participate in an exchange of ideas and to see who fits nicely into your comfort zone.
Maybe you’re looking to build your own group,independent of any writing website. Read some blogs, chat with writers on Facebook and Twitter, and touch base with your new friends about who’s interested in swapping critiques. Then build your own partnerships from there.
One of the common myths about online groups is that they’re all business, that online critique partners can’t be as close as those who share a physical space every two weeks. Not so. “We’re friends,” says Kate Douglas, author of HellFire. “We communicate about everything, from grandkids, kids and husbands, to the current state of the publishing business.” These days, a critique group is a group, no matter “where” it meets.
GIVE YOURSELF A TRIAL PERIOD. When you join a group or start critiquing at a forum, you are not stepping into a puddle of glue. You don’t have to stick with any group that isn’t working for you, and it can actually be simpler to step out of an online group than an in-person one. Submit a few short pieces, or a few chapters of your book, and take time to think about the comments you receive. Critique the other writers’ work, see how you feel about their projects, and watch how they respond to your feedback. Don’t lower your commitment level to your writing or critiquing, but do decide whether or not a specific group is the best place for you to be sharing your work. If you’re not in the right place, ease out with respect and professionalism, and keep looking. Remember, it’s your choice.
This article was written by Becky Levine.