How Online Writing Groups Help You Get Published

by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Group of people jumping

I must admit that I am not currently part of a writing critique group, although I did participate in one several years ago.

A part of me thinks I should invest some time in finding a suitable group, but another part says my life is far too busy at the moment to physically attend one.

Is there an alternative? A way to enjoy the benefits of a writing group without ever leaving the house?

In the past few months, I’ve found several online venues that help people do just that.

When literary agent Nathan Bransford created writing forums through his blog, I was quick to join. Hundreds of writers interact there to discuss all things writing, publishing, feedback and finding agents.

There are plenty of other communities for writers like Absolute Write Water Cooler, Writer’s Digest Critique Central, Critique Circle, The Public Query Slushpile, and many more.

These sites are not merely venues for aspiring writers to post stories or novel excerpts. Rather, they help writers accomplish a number of tasks which help bring them closer to having their work published.

Online forums and critique circles can help you:

Find a critique partner

Connect with another writer and swap your works-in-progress. Help one another identify strengths and weaknesses in your prose, spot logic holes and inconsistencies, offer suggestions for improvement, or simply offer to proofread.

Try to find someone who reads or writes extensively in the same genre. For example, I write mainstream/literary, so I wouldn’t have much to offer a writer of science fiction or fantasy.

If you’d prefer to share only a short excerpt of your work, there are opportunities to have it critiqued by multiple contributors.

Get feedback on your queries

Queries are the bane of every writer’s existence. How does one go about boiling down a 300 page novel into just a couple of paragraphs?

The biggest problem with writing a query is that you know your story so well, it’s easy to leave out crucial information. Sharing your query with other writers can help you iron out any problems in communicating your story to a literary agent.

Discuss particular problems

If you find yourself stumped over a plotting problem or character issue, a quick post on an online forum can provide you with a number of different perspectives from other writers.

I once posted about an issue I had with the structure of my own work-in-progress, and soon received several replies with advice, and relevant reading recommendations.

Find moral support

There will be days you’ll want to give up. Days you’ll think you’re no good.

When you’re feeling down, it’s always comforting to be able to reach out to others. But, your non-writer friends and family members aren’t likely to understand your plight, try as they might.

An online writing group connects you to others going through the same things, whether it be something tangible, like a rejection letter, or intangible, like lack of confidence.

Is there a catch?

As with any group in which you share your writing, there are always words of warning:

  • Take feedback with a grain of salt. Not every piece of advice you get will be good, so use your best judgment.
  • Express your thanks for any critique you receive, even if you don’t like what the person has said. If someone offers you constructive criticism and you become defensive, others won’t be eager to help you in the future.
  • You have to give first to receive. Don’t just turn up, post your work, and expect a free handout. Give feedback to several other writers before you ask for feedback on your own work.
  • Watch what you write. Words can appear much different on the page than when they are spoken. Always give positive feedback before criticism.

Are you part of either a physical or virtual writing support group?

What other online venues can you recommend to writers seeking interactive communities?

{ 8 comments }

The Author-In-Training May 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I have joined an online critique community called Scribophile (www.scribophile.com). There all members are encouraged to critique before they are able to post their own pieces. Also, the members must maintain a specifice number of “karma” points to be able to continue posting their work to receive critique.

They are a rather friendly and welcoming bunch over there. Plus, the site is continually improving it’s interfaces so posting, and critiquing become easier and easier. Registration is free, but if you wish to post more than two pieces, and have other functionalities (such as private messaging, etc.) there is an annual fee. Despite the fee, the feedback and support has been very helpful to me.

Suzannah May 25, 2010 at 2:17 am

Sounds like a great resource–thanks for sharing!

Anonymous May 25, 2010 at 12:53 am

You mention that you wouldn’t be much help to a sci-fi/fantasy writer…on the contrary, I think your input would be invaluable. Genre authors have a lot to learn from literary authors. The more inter-genre input the better. Great post.

Suzannah May 25, 2010 at 2:19 am

Thanks! I suppose I could be helpful in terms of prose, but what I meant is I have no experience reading sci-fi or fantasy, so I’m completely ignorant of what’s expected from the genre.

Anonymous May 25, 2010 at 11:54 am

I actually joined Critique Circle several years ago and am still a member. I’ve found some fantastic crit partners who have really helped my writing improve, and it’s nice to have other writers to chat and commiserate with. I highly recommend joining one of those groups!

LydiaSharp May 25, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I can honestly say I would be *nowhere* right now without my online critique partners.

Danielle Meitiv May 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I am par of an informal writing trio. at the moment, we’ve slacked off on the exchange of work to crit but are always there for moral support, which is as important as anything else.

But writing groups are not the subject of my comment. As I have been meaning to tell you, I subscribe to many writing bogs and newsletters, but Write It Sideways is the ONLY one I read as soon as it arrives in my inbox. The content is always interesting, often of the exactly-what-I-needed-to-hear variety, and the length is just right. Thank you and keep up the fabulous work!

Suzannah May 25, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Danielle, thanks so much for your comments! I’m honoured. It’s always encouraging to hear my articles are helping people, so thanks for sharing :)

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