How to Succeed in an Online Writing Workshop

by Victory Crayne

Copyright 1996

See also: [ "Career Plan for Fiction Writers" | "How to Critique Fiction" | Writing Resources | Motivation | Writing | Internet ]

Have you ever wondered how to get started in one of those writing workshops you hear about so much? Are you afraid of being the new kid on the block and not knowing what to do?

Relax. We were all in your boots at one time. Here's the real scoop on how to get started and succeed in a new writing workshop on the Internet. Many of the ideas here also work well in workshops where writers meet in person.

  1. Pick a workshop that appears to have other writers who write the kind of fiction or nonfiction you like to write. But if such a group is hard to find, join an active group anyway. You will get valuable feedback even if no one writes the kind of stuff you do.

  2. Join a writing workshop that has participation requirements. Such a workshop will have more active and helpful people than one where people can just lurk and make comments without having to work hard, that is, do some actual writing of their own.

  3. Study any workshop guidelines or FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) file. Read the submissions and the critiques of others for about a week to get a feeling for the culture of the group.

  4. Critique three pieces submitted by other writers. This gives you practice in critiquing and will help you become more aware of weaknesses in your own writing. It will also establish you as willing to be an active member of the group. Remember: the best way to GET critiques is to GIVE them.

    In addition, you may wish to read some critiques prepared by others to learn more about how write your own critique. Authors are interested in your fresh look at what they've written, so I recommend you write a critique of a piece before you look at any other critique of that same piece.

  5. When preparing a critique, remember to focus on the written words, not the author behind them or the author's viewpoint.

  6. If you would like some help in learning how to critique, you may wish to read my article "How to Critique Fiction". If you write nonfiction, there are some valuable pointers on general writing in there for you too.

  7. Take the plunge - write something or polish a previously written piece of your own.

  8. Clean it up for grammar, spelling, etc. before you submit it. Submit in the format the group specifies.

  9. Try to get one live person near you to review it for such simple things as: Did they understand it? Do they feel your paragraphs are too long? Did you miss a word in a sentence or two (easy to do in the heat of creative writing)? Did they enjoy reading it?

  10. Submit your piece to your critique group; then wait for feedback. Give the others a few days to read and critique your submission. We're all busy people. Some folks can only find time to critique on weekend and others may take a week to respond. If you need fast feedback in order to meet a deadline, it is best to mention that in the opening paragraph of your submission.

  11. Thank all critics via private email for their critiques, even if you disagree over some points. Send your thanks to them privately, not to the whole list. Thank them for taking the time to look at your work. Show some appreciation. Most important: don't 'critique' their critique. In other words, don't argue.

  12. The great majority of the critics mean well for you and try to help by pointing out what they believe are weaknesses. Occasionally you will receive a critique that tears your piece apart. You be the final judge. Others may have different viewpoints and nobody is 'god' here. However, ask yourself: would you rather have friendly critics find the weaknesses in your piece or an editor who might reject it because of them?

  13. Fix up your piece with some of the ideas from the critiques which you thought were helpful. You don't have to agree with everything everyone said but it is amazing what a second look can do. Most good projects were not done perfectly the first time.

  14. You may wish to resubmit your revised piece, but I suggest you do so only if you made a lot of changes. Don't bother if you just fixed grammar, spelling, or other minor changes.

  15. Now take the big plunge - send it in to a publisher! (Query letters, submission formats, etc. are beyond the scope of this article.)

  16. Try to submit something original to your critique group at least once a month. Don't let your writing skills become rusty.

  17. Critique the works of other writers occasionally.

  18. For every person who took the time to critique something of yours, write a critique of something of theirs in return. As I said above: the best way to get critiques is to give them.

  19. Remember that everyone in your workshop is a peer. No one walks on water.

  20. The most important step of all - WRITE! You will learn more by doing than you will by reading and 'getting ready to write some day'.

  21. Remember to enjoy yourself while you're writing. Writing may seem like hard work in the beginning, but if you focus on enjoying yourself in your writing sessions it will come through in your choice of ideas and words. Your readers will pick up on your enjoyment and enjoy themselves also.

  22. Last of all, keep on writing no matter what obstacles get in your way. Eventually you will wake up one day and find yourself writing materials that many people will enjoy. Whether you sell it or not, it will be such an exciting reward that you will thank yourself for sticking it out.

People ask me frequently for a recommendation on which online writing workshop to join. Here are some pointers on finding one to meet your needs.

  1. On the Internet, you may visit the Victory Page Under Writing, you will find Writing Resources (general writing resources).

  2. Use the web search engines. Look for [with the quotes]: "critique group", "writing workshop", "writer's workshop".

  3. Visit the web sites by and for writers. My web page has dozens of them under Writing Resources.

That's enough reading about them. Now get online and go for it!

- Victory Crayne

Ms. Victory Crayne lives in California and has been a very active member of the Internet writing community since January 1995. Her Victory Page has her articles "Career Plan for Fiction Writers", "How to Critique Fiction", "Victory's Motivational Newsletter" (several issues), and many other writing resources.

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