Whenever I talk to someone who has either just started, or is considering writing, I always point them toward the website that has helped me more than anything else, The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror or simply, OWW. Now, of course, the budding author needs to be working in one of those three genres, but that’s usually the case with the circles I run in.
I’ll go ahead and state that I am not paid or profiting in any way by pimping this site. I’m just a very satisfied customer.
I stumbled across this website right when I was first starting out, and I’ve been a huge fan of it ever since.
How it works:
- You post a short story/chapter/etc. of 7,500 words or less.
- Other authors from across the globe will read your submission, and critique it.
- In order to post more submissions and receive more critiques, you must critique other authors to “earn” the points to post.
It’s a simple formula, but it works. Here’s why:
- The reviewers are not friends. I love my friends. My best friend reads everything I write before anyone else in the world gets to. But most people can’t give true feedback to a friend. They love you, and their personal bias allows much more forgiveness for weak writing. Now some reviewers might become your friends. I have several crit-buddies that I’ve met there, but whatever friendship we now have is founded on our ability at brutal and blunt creative honesty.
- The reviewers are writers. A writer can look at a story and see it differently than a non-writer can. They can identify clunky phrasing, word-abuse, and overall flow much better because they’ve trained themselves to see it in their own writing.
- The reviewers, like your eventual readers, have only the work to go on. The biggest disadvantage my wife or my friends have when reading my drafts is that they already know part of the story. I’ve told it to them, and bounced ideas. Their judgment of how I set up a scene or plot-point is now based off of those conversations and not exclusively on the written work. The reviewers on the workshop have been spared from those spoilers and their impressions are more valuable for it.
- The impersonality of the Internet allows for honesty. I’ve been to face-to-face workshops or writing groups and the average person is simply a lot more honest with delivering criticism if they don’t have to look you in the eye when they give it. Furthermore, the inability for the person receiving the criticism to interrupt, defend, or react, allows for more brutal truth.
- Learning to review other writers teaches you how to review yourself. When I first started the workshop, I’d have writers point out flaws that I just didn’t believe I had. Then, after reviewing other authors, and honing my skills, I started to make those exact same comments to others. Then it hit me. “Damn, I’m guilty of it, too. I see it now.”
- The variance of reviewers allows you access to their experience. This is one of those hard-to-identify benefits, so I’ll give you a few examples. I’ve read stories by people that clearly have limited or zero experience with shooting a gun. It’s not that they say anything wrong in their writing, but that it lacks anything above what you find in movies (particularly how loud they really are, or how far white-hot brass can fly and the fun places that it can fly into.) Having a reviewer suggest little details that can add to the realism not only makes it read better, but can give a lot of credibility. Personally, when writing DÄMOREN, I was fortunate enough that out of my small circle of reviewers I happened to have a Filipino author that could verify if I’d used an Aswang correctly. I also had a British author. She helped me with Allan’s dialogue. Another reviewer grew up in Tuscany, and they were able to help with the little details an actual resident would know over my short experiences there as a tourist. That’s a much larger diversity pool than I’d likely find at any local writing group.
With any critique, you’ll need to learn what to follow and what to ignore. That’s just a fact of writing. I don’t always follow the advice of my reviewers, but I do note it. If more than one person mentions the same issue, it might be something that does need correcting. Honestly, I’d rather have 100 scathing peer reviews of an unpolished piece over an editor’s rejection of a finished one. Most editors won’t tell you why they reject a submission, and having other authors tear it up first can greatly improve the chances of having a story accepted.
Now, not every review is a “good” review. Occasionally you get one that is just useless. Every once in a while I’ve had a writer show up that gives crits that are either pointless, or insane rantings. But those are the minority. Honestly, in the hundreds of reviews of gotten there, I’ve had less than 15 completely useless ones. Some might be 99% bad, but then they find a typo or make a style/story suggestion that no one else saw. That’s still a “good” review.
So for any new writers needing a place to hone their craft, you should check it out. There are other online workshops out there, and some of them are reportedly pretty good. But this is the only one I’ve ever used, and I can honestly say that it’s where I learned to write.