Occasional Ravings: Never mind the jabberwocky, there are worse critters out there.

Recently I experimented with two mutual feedback writing sites: Scribophile and Critique Circle. My main motivation was to receive feedback from other writers without having to pay for it, which is what you have to do on most publishing and competition sites.

The principles for each are similar i.e. critique a lot of other people’s work and you get to publish a little of your work for critique. I have no problem generally with that give-and-get model and not only did I get to read some great stories but I received many encouraging and helpful crits.

The down sides from my point of view (come on, you knew where this was going) include these:

  1. Critters (i.e. people who provide critiques) are from all skill levels and experience and range from never published to published. So it’s natural that crits will vary considerably in quality and usefulness.
  2. The systems for accumulating points (apart from being arcane and confusing) are built around a minimum length of critique of you want to add to your points tally. I imagine this was originally designed to discourage crits such as ‘I really liked this story. The end.’ and promote useful and helpful detailed feedback. However, especially for short story writers, this system has resulted in many instances of what’s known on Scrib as karma-farming i.e. providing crits full of pedantry and less than helpful opinions with the sole purpose of getting to the minimum of 125 words.
  3. Both sites are dominated by novel writers (including, I kid you not, one who is up to 600,000 words and growing) and the majority of these novels are sci-fi, fantasy, horror and dystopian nightmare stuff. So the feedback you will receive for traditional short stories that have something to do with the lives that most people lead will largely be from the limited numbers of members interested in that genre.
  4. These sites are not for the thin-skinned. Any feedback that questions the quality of your writing, even when put gently as most critters do, is challenging to accept. (‘How dare they attack my carefully raised and precious child!’) But when a critter uses a sledgehammer to drive a tack into what they see as a flaw it makes it that much more difficult to suck it up and consider that they may have a point. Even worse are the few that seem to take vicious delight in undermining your confidence. And don’t get me started on those who demanded that I write like an American and not use words or expressions they haven’t come across before.
  5. The moderators of these sites (as is common with many web entities) will not brook any suggestion that their rules and systems lack perfection and their apparatchiks will descend upon you from a great height to defend them.
  6. Finally, and the killer for me, both of these forums ended up consuming an enormous amount of time that I could have devoted to my own writing.

I’m particularly interested in your thoughts if:

a) You have also used these sites (or similar) at some stage and what your experience was of them.

b) You know of other sites that you’ve found more useful in getting good feedback on short stories.

However, anything else you might want to add to the discussion, fire away.

31 thoughts on “Occasional Ravings: Never mind the jabberwocky, there are worse critters out there.

  1. No I have never belonged to one of those. Our weekly writing group with a tutor, reading out aloud to our peers and also submitting our written piece for a written critique has always been very helpful, though of course lacking an international view! I was amused at your experience Doug – none of us should change our own national style. As for fantasy, at the risk of offending many writers, I avoid anything mentioning dragons or elves or set in other wolds, though all these genres seem to be very popular. This is rather hypocritical as lots of my writing features strange things and even the occasional dragon, but I always write about ordinary people strange things hapen to!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. No, never laid my head on the guillotine of my peers, Doug. Far too thin skinned, writing-wise, for that. I’ve entered the odd fee paying competition and been frankly stunned at what is judged as prize-worthy at times- Wergle Flomp comes to my stunned mind of late- so all I can conclude is that I’m a poor judge of others. At least it’s reciprocal.
    And what’s with people who demand you write in ‘Merican English? There’s a whole new world of idioms out in the world outside your fifty states of exclusivity, (good ol’) boys.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Americans love Aussie accents, by the way, so why would you Americanize your linguistic advantage? Ah, Doug. You bring to like a poorly serviced need among writers — productive critique. First of all, unless you have been in an MFA program (or global equivalent), worked professionally in the book industry, or trained in some other way how to effectively critique manuscripts big or small, you are ignorant in the skill of critique. What is offered in these programs is peer feedback. And yes, it will be hit and miss, often brutal, depending on how fragile the egos involved. For it to be critique, there must be training as well as clearly defined rules and outcomes. You wouldn’t throw a group of children in the deep end of the swimming pool and expect them to learn to swim in the water from their own struggling peers. The more writers flail in these kinds of situations, the more damage is done to productivity and confidence. To train confident writers, one must offer clear expectations for the purpose of the critique, how to critique as if you were the editor assigned to make an author’s work a best-seller, how to communicate what is and isn’t needed for a critique, and real-life practice. I’m building a platform to teach writers productive critique. One avenue will be monthly group coaching with a critique training and a drafted, critiqued, and revised piece to enter into a contest or journal. It will cost a monthly fee, but will hold the value of learning and experiencing MFA-level critique.


  4. I saw an episode of Bob the Builder in the US. It was dubbed into American. 😦
    I guess critiquing the work of someone you know is fraught, my husband never lets me read anything of his until it’s published, after the one time I offered what I thought was helpful feedback. But maybe those sites aren’t the answer either. Tricky problem.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on Carrot Ranch Literary Community and commented:
    From my time spent among peers, professors, and industry professionals in an MFA program, I learned the value of feedback to a writer. However, not all feedback is productive. We even discussed other MFA programs and top-level writing workshops and noted how their feedback can harm and create barriers. I’ve avoided “community” feedback sites, or contests that rely upon reader feedback because they tend to create bias and bitterness. What a writer needs to grow is productive feedback. What will improve a piece of writing? Learning to question is useful. Questions like, “Have you thought about …” or “What if…” Doug makes good points. If you’d like to discuss feedback, let me know your thoughts!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I don’t use any site that I have to read and gift points to another writer. I also subscribe to the ‘If you can’t say anything nice… at least don’t say it in public!’ maxim.

    I write because I enjoy it. I read other prompted writers because I enjoy them. I’ve had enough negative criticism from folks who I thought ought to have provided some support and encouragement. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want or need to pay for editing. That might change. Anything is possible, though however limitedly plausible.

    Private conversations with suggestions are always welcome. Adults can always agree to disagree. Continued success Doug.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your cogent thoughts, Jules. ‘Private conversations with suggestions are always welcome. Adults can always agree to disagree.’ Exactly and it’s what I crave, even when it tells me that I’ve totally missed the mark in conveying what was in my head. 🙂 I’m much less enamoured with the ‘If you can’t say anything nice… at least don’t say it in public!’ school of thought. I think that only applies to shallow and smart alec feedback and not to respectful but honest feedback that (hopefully) helps the writer grow.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve just had too many experiences with other bloggers who seem to misinterpret what is said. And rather than ask pertinent questions, they tell you what a blatant idiot I might be for either what I’ve written or a comment I might have made. It’s one thing to point out a spelling error, or even grammar which can be subjective in poetry.

        But I’m not going to point blank tell someone I don’t like their opinion because it doesn’t fit in my wheel house of acceptance.

        There are ways to grow without being nasty. Most of the blogs that I have encountered are written by folks wanting to share in a positive way. I don’t mind someone telling me I’ve forgotten to dot and i or cross a T, but I’m not up for a complete re-write to suit a particular frame of reference that has nothing to do with what I’ve written. And that has happened to me more than once.

        ‘Oh, can we change this sentence or edit this.’ But then you loose the path from a to c if you took out the b. ‘Oh… yes, so I guess then we’ll just have to eliminate your piece because a) we don’t like it or b) it doesn’t quite fit our parameters.’

        If you want public opinion, join a writing group if you can find it. I would if I had one that wasn’t lead by someone who I knew was particularly prejudice – At least that’s what I had discovered many years ago at a local place. I don’t cotton to narrow views of non-acceptance of differences of faith, creed or skin coloring.

        So I’ll stick to saying nice things or nothing. Unless I end up knowing the person well enough to email them privately.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I hear you loud and clear. The epitome of useless and nonsensical feedback that I’ve received related to a 100 word piece of flash fiction I’d submitted to a site that was rejected because I took too long to get into the story. For crying out loud.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello Doug. It’s good to see the conversation. But nope, I haven’t done such as you describe. Not my cuppa.
    I go the old fashioned route and criticize myself, but somehow manage to pick up pen again, despite being an impoverished imposter.
    (I was more long winded at Charli’s reblog; now thinking it’s poorly written…)

    Liked by 2 people

    • D, you are neither impoverished nor an imposter when it comes to writing. Have to say I’m not a great fan of your Saloon characters but everything else you write is a pleasure for me to anticipate. More power to your pen and your keyboard.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. I’ve had an intermittent subscription to Scribophile for three years (in contrast to almost every other paid sub system I’ve encountered, ‘Scrib’ does not automatically set you up with a recurring subscription, which, to me, speaks volumes about its ethics).

    While I can agree with many of your objections, particularly those concerning the low quality of feedback, there are some dedicated and friendly folk on Scrib who will do their best to help you improve your creative writing. Although there is a predominance of fanciful writing, I also came across numerous examples of more prosaic — and even mundane — content as well; and, in any case, I don’t believe that an author’s preferred subject matter has a great deal of bearing on their ability to provide constructive feedback.

    I ran my own work through the mill at Scrib before (self-)publishing it, and I feel that it was worth the effort. My experience was, on the whole, very positive. Yes, it’s time-consuming, mainly because one has to do a lot of work providing critiques of others’ works in order to gain the ‘karma’ to spend on getting feedback on one’s own. I don’t resent that time investment at all.

    I think at the end of the day your point #4 is the most relevant one: before embarking on such an adventure, it’s necessary to (a) gird one’s loins and (b) accept the reality that in any group there will be those who simply lack the skill or insight to offer feedback that you will find of use.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Many thanks for your thoughtful and incisive comments, especially as they come from someone who has experienced Scribophile. I’m pleased that you found the best of it helpful in your growth as a writer. As a predominantly short story writer, I found the gene pool thin but, like you, some of the crits I received were enormously helpful in working out what was getting across to readers and what wasn’t and why. However, unlike you, I found the workload required to receive those pearls just too burdensome and distracting. To each his own.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I don’t equate participating in a (mostly) friendly community that has the objective of mutual assistance with ‘work’. But ‘different strokes for different folks’, absolutely.

        Liked by 1 person

    • You hit a nerve regarding the “recurring” subscriptions. I was almost burned twice on it. I signed up for a subscription to an editing program for one year. I use an older computer and couldn’t get it to download so I cancelled the subscription within the hour. I received a message saying they were sorry to see me go, but I could access the site until 2022. “What!!!” I shouted into the air. Ends up that once you’ve subscribed — even if its for less than an hour and you never used the site — you can’t get your money back. Thankfully, I have my AmerX card through a banking site that not only went to bat for me, they probably hit someone over the head with it. My money was refunded within 2 days.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m glad to hear that you were able to recover your outlay… this time. The main problem I have with automatic recurrent subscriptions is that (I believe) all too many companies make (far too much) money from people who can’t be bothered to cancel them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true. It reminds me of getting calls all the time — when there was no way to see who was calling — from places trying to sell something. In the future, there might be a law that makes these places warn you in advance before you can be charged for another year.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’m going to concentrate on finalizing the ending to my first series: It hovers just out of reach. Then, I’ll think about it.

        As a caution to new writers….
        In 2013 when my first book was published, I was woefully unprepared. A friend uploaded it to CreateSpace, and the editing was sketchy at best. There were 3 revisions to the first book, and this ghost of mistakes past has spawned reviews. Make sure your book is right and don’t rush into publication.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ve always longed for a critique group that was honest with their thoughts, but not in a hurtful way. I don’t want someone to say “that’s wrong, don’t publish your book!” I want them to say, wait… here’s what’s wrong, and here’s how to fix it. Because… after all, if I knew how to fix it, I would have done so in the first place. That might be too much to ask of a free group. I don’t know. I’ve recently joined ChapterBuzz: https://www.chapterbuzz.com/. You can list one book for free and then you are into a paid membership. I’m hoping for constructive relationships. We shall see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a free group to be honest but constructive about what works for them and for the writer to take on board whether that rings true or not. Looking forward to hearing how your new group goes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We all might have to form our own group! It’s not really about giving advice. It’s more about figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’m not qualified to give any advice. I need to rewrite my first novel. I’ll keep at it until I get it right. It’s a lot of self study but even then I’m not sure.

        Liked by 1 person

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