You wrote something creative. Yeah, you did. And it’s something you think is pretty nifty, if you do say so yourself. So you show your mom and she says “Wow, honey, this is so creative!” Then you show it to your significant other and they exclaim “absolutely riveting!” You’re good to go now… you’re stoked! Ready to write more about the three toed, potato peeler wielding serial killer.
Unstoke yourself. You can’t trust these people… they’ll lie to you in a hot minute. They love you, understand, love you enough to feed you hot flattering garbage when they know damn well it’s stupid trying to scrape people to death with a potato peeler. Buy them something nice for their birthday and get an assessment of your work from other sources.
Don’t know any other sources? Do all your peers think reading is too full of that boring writing stuff… are they busy watching Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of Insert City Here? Or you do know some local workshops but they either charge money that you don’t wanna cough up or they meet on your bowling night?
Welcome to Critters.
I went through my Arrogant Artist Phase, the one where you know you’re the best thing since Hemingway and no one born as of yet can truly appreciate your sheer genius. After I got real, I started looking for peer review and decided on Critters.
Here’s how it works. Once you’re a member, you’re given access to a manuscript queue, usually updated on a weekly basis every Wednesday. You go into that queue, pick a manuscript by title and start reading. Then you critique the writer’s work, what you liked, what didn’t, suggestions for improvement. You can critique as many as you like but the rule is that you have to do at least one a week. As a member, you’re allowed to upload your own work for review. The time from submission to appearance in the review queue is about three weeks. However, members (called critters) can earn productivity awards to bump their submission to the head of the waiting list by doing more critiques than the required amount. The workshop accepts donations from its members, but the only thing that you really have to spend is a little of your time.
I like a lot of things about the critters model. Andrew Aburt, former SFWA vice president, runs the site and requires a minimum number of words for your critique to count. Not all online writers workshops do this… Baen’s Bar is an example of that. Aburt also has a special program for getting whole novels critiqued and is always working to ensure there’s a certain sense of community. He also emphasizes diplomacy and courtesy in delivering critiques, so you won’t often find people outright treating your work like it’s two-ply toilet paper. I also like the fact that it’s web based, so I can access it from anywhere on my own schedule.
Critters isn’t all sugar in the land of sunshine, though. It’s a free site accessible to anyone on the Internet. By the vary nature of that structure you’re going to run across some bad writers… and bad writers can’t help but give bad advice. There’s nothing to be done about that, just know going in that you’re going to have to take anything you get with a grain of salt. Two, if you’re particularly long winded on a story (say 8500 to 12k words) you’re likely to only get a handful of critiques. People are busy. It is what it is.
Peer review, by and large, helps most writers, provided they know how to process that review (more on that in an upcoming installment of Creative Combat Arms). You’re getting people who dig fiction, stand to know a bit about writing techniques, and don’t really care enough about your feelings to lie to you about what they saw in it. And it’s all there when you want it on your schedule.
Ultimately, the pros outweigh the cons, which is why I’m still a proud member. So are quite a number of already established pro writers. So what are you waiting for, go check them out.