I have a love-hate relationship with online writing communities. Some have birthed awesome relationships with crit-partners, beta readers, and writing mentors. Some are the equivalent of a cesspool of shit dropped into a dumpster everyone thinks smells like flowers except you.
There are a lot of online communities out there—WattPad, Scribophile, Online Writing Workshop for SFF, Fiction Writers Group, and then the official ones like SFWA or RWA. Some are amazing with a few bad apples thrown in the mix. Some are mostly inexperienced writers looking for a way to share their work. And some are horror stories waiting to happen.
I’m not here to sell one to you, but rather let you know the pros and cons of joining one.
I have received invaluable advice and feedback from people I’ve met across the interwebs. From critiquing chapters of Monsters of the Deep to picking me up when I was lost in my own story, these people are the unseen heart of the writing community. Sure, we might step on each other’s toes every once in a while, but what relationship doesn’t?
My crit-partners have pushed me to be a better writer. All those struggles I now try to avoid in the first draft? I learned about them through their eyes. All the times I thought I knew what I was doing only to be brought back down to earth? They were the strings tying me to the ground. All the times I thought I’d written utter shit? They bolstered me back into the clear blue sky again.
The community I built for myself through these online sites have been incredible. And necessary. No one can grow as a writer in a vacuum. We need feedback and new perspectives, and confidence to share our work.
Just like any online forum, there are those people who just shouldn’t interact with others. They don’t know how to keep from flinging sand in your eyes, and so they should probably vacate the sandbox. These are the people inflated on their own egos, who think they know the ins-and-outs of writing, that their work is gold (when really it’s shit covered in brass), and sit upon their own paper-throne to tell you “how it is.”
Or the people who are just such bad writers, that you want to tell them they should probably research the craft and do another three drafts before they ask for critiques. Everyone was there at some point, and maybe it’s a good thing the internet wasn’t really around then or I’d have been in the same predicament as them. It’s too easy to upload your work and receive an immediate response. And it’s too easy to ignore sound advice.
Then there are the people who are plain mean. I have not been on the receiving end of this (thank God), but, in one community, there have been complaints of trolls who harass women because they’re women. Critiquers will, at some point, make you believe that your writing is tantamount to goblin-shit splattered over the walls of an abandoned house where no one will ever hear your story. And sometimes, they’ll do you the disservice of a lazy critique or over-sell, and you’ll find yourself heartbroken when your writing equals up to sub-par.
So how do you decide which group to join? Which one is right for you?
My best advice is to try it out. See what groups foster productive and constructive relationships between its members. Read their mission statement and their critique guidelines. Does the site have a way to report harmful critiques? You know the ones that make you wanna curl under a rock like Patrick Star, but without the lovable ignorance.
Every writer needs another eye, whether that’s via an editor, a beta reader, a crit-partner, or a brutally honest friend is your own decision.