Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Online Writing Communities--Do You Or Don't You?

As y'all have probably figured out by now, I tend to post about whatever's on my mind when I sit down to blog. I don't usually plan out a list of blog posts, although perhaps I should.
So what's on my mind today is online writing communities. Specifically, the number of communities, the varied purposes of them, and the seven million dollar question--which ones are worth belonging to?
Here's the thing. Online communities (whether they are loops or sites or blogs or facebook or twitter) take up precious time. Lots of precious time.

Everybody's life is different, but I think that we all face the same issue with regard to time. There's never enough of it.

Writing must be done. Words put on the paper, regarded, revised, regarded again and revised again.

Almost all of us have to take time to work, to put food in our bellies and clothes on our kids. What a timesuck that tends to be.

So when it comes to online writing communities, the question is, do they help your writing, or do they suck up so much time that the writing never actually gets done?

I think the answer to this varies from person to person, and from community to community. I'm a member of multiple online writing communities. Some I can talk about, some have rules that forbid it. What I can say though, is that its important to pick those communities carefully. Here are my standards for whether I'll remain a part of the community:

1. Is it positive?
Some communities out there are negative. They allow flame wars and beating up on people who disagree with the community's alpha leaders. I've been lucky enough not to experience this, but have heard some horror stories. People, life is just too short to subject yourself to this kind of negative experience. Move on. There are tons of wonderful, supportive communities out there where you'll be welcomed and respected.

2. Does it help me on my journey to publication?
This one is important. We've all heard about how it's important to have an online presence for when you "get the call." But if your online presence sucks up all your writing time, guess what? You'll never finish anything to submit, and therefore, you'll never get the call. Sad, but true. Sigh.

But wait, it's not all gloom and doom! There are communites out there that can help you do both! At once! I know--it's great.

For instance, I'm a member of a writing goals community. In this community, we set yearly, weekly and monthly goals. We post weekly about what we've accomplished writing-wise that week, and we cheer each other on. Sounds simple. But I can't tell you how powerful a tool this is. Having that weekly accountability from a loop of committed writers who cheer for your successes, and commiserate with you when you feel like you've failed is SO helpful. It keeps me on track, knowing I need to have something to report on weekly.

I'm also a member of two critique loops. The one I am allowed to talk about is Critique This, and you can see our group blog at Critique This if you're interested. Critique groups are fantastic things, if you find the right ones. Having fresh eyes look at what you've worked and reworked until it seems dull, lifeless and pretty much awful is invaluable. The trick is finding people who will tell you the truth as they see it, but kindly and respectfully. And the other trick is to remember that you are the writer, and you need to take what works and toss the rest. If you can do this, your writing will grow immensely, especially if you're a new writer. I also find that critiquing other people's work helps me see where I fall short in mine. Funny the way things work.

3. Does it help you learn the craft of writing?
This is a more specific question than number two. Here, I'm talking about craft classes. Many local RWA groups offer classes online, where for a small fee you can learn about something you're having trouble with in your writing, or just want to learn more about. Let me caution you. Not all classes are created equal. And the cost of fees don't always correspond to the utility of the class. Some of the best classes I've had were free, and some of the least helpful I paid for. What it comes down to is research. Try to find out if anyone you know has taken a class you think you may be interested in. Ask them for their honest opinion. And go into realizing that just because that style of teaching worked for one person, doesn't mean it'll work for another. Overall though, you can learn something from every class, even if it isn't what you thought you'd learn.

4.Does it help you learn about the business of publication?
Here I'm talking Twitter. Okay. So when I first tried twitter I thought it was the most useless thing ever invented.

(Sorry Twitter--I've since converted!)

I thought it was an immense timesuck, and pretty much useless, other than keeping up with my writing friends.

Then I started following agents.

Okay guys, listen up. This is important.

Agents tell you what they're thinking on twitter. What they're looking for. What they HATE and you should never, under any circumstances do. Seriously. Its better than their blogs, and far less work to keep up with. And they post competitions from their blogs on twitter. Win a synopsis crit? A query crit? Query submissionsfest? All posted on twitter. So, I'm a convert. I've learned more about agents, their preferences and what they're looking for from Twitter in a month than I did in a year of sporadic blog reading. If you have a Twitter account and don't follow agents on it, consider doing so.

Okay, I realize that every time I post, it's incredibly long winded, so I am going to stop for now. Does anyone have something to add to the list that I've missed? Any comments on what I have on the list? Agree? Disagree?


  1. This is a good post. I've been apart of a few online writing communities here and there, but have yet to find one that really makes me stick around. I may try Online Writers Workshop and see how that goes

  2. Thanks Falen!
    Is there a need in particular you're looking to fill? I could give you some suggestions on some great communities I know of. You can email me at seemerissawrite@yahoo.com if you're interested!
    I don't know of Online Writers Workshop--maybe I'll check them out too.
    I'm glad you stopped by!

  3. I belong to a critique group that I love. They have helped me so much along the way. My writing has improved immensely. It's called The Next Big Writer.


  4. Aren't critique groups fabulous when you find a good one? I wouldn't trade mine for the world. Thanks for stopping by to visit Ann!

  5. I've been on a lot of loops and chat groups. They work for me for awhile or for different aspects of writing. In general, I submerge into my wip for awhile then burn out and get involved in a writing community for awhile. Writing communities keep me enthused and give me new insights into my work. Thanks for the post. Some good ideas to ponder.

  6. My pleasure, Linda! I love that you have that balance worked out for yourself, so that you get the benefits of the online communites without losing all your writing time.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Like you, I'm a member of a goals and motivation writers group that I love. I feel safe to discuss my frustrations and my successes there, and posting my weekly outcomes and goals for the next week makes me accountable to achieve them. I'm a member of several writers' loops but am considering cutting back because I am often inundated with e-mails. I plan to swing by the critique groups mentioned here. That's the one piece I'm missing.