Sunday 14 June 2009

Writers' Message Boards And Online Communities

There are lots of places on the internet where writers gather: I've written some general posts about them here. Many writers' message boards include a discussion forum and an area where writers can receive feedback and criticism on their work, but some of them are far better than others: it all depends, I think, on what the writers who populate the place are like. If a writers' site has a good proportion of accomplished, well-published writers in its membership then the advice there is likely to be above average; if the members are all aspiring writers with little or no experience of publication, or there's a high proportion of vanity-published writers among the membership, then it's very likely that the advice that's on offer isn't going to be quite so good.

Here are a few of my favourites. I'd be grateful if you'd provide links to the places you like in the comments, and let me know what's so special about them.

AbsoluteWrite is probably the best writers' site on the internet. It's got a fabulous message board and it seems to me that the people who comment there have a higher-than-average level of intelligence and publishing expertise. It's American, and lots of the information it contains is restricted to that continent: but there's still an awful lot of good stuff there for anyone who is interested in writing, revising, and getting published. It's free to read, free to join, and free to take part in, and I love it.

Authonomy is HarperCollins UK's interractive writers' site. There's a sprawling message-board (which takes forever to load on my dial-up service), a large selection of work on view; and every month the five (I think) most well-received pieces of work get looked at by HarperCollins editors, and are commented on. This is not to be sniffed at: but do bear in mind that so far not one of any of the top five books has been published by HarperCollins, and only one book has been taken from the Authonomy slush-pile for publication.

Litopia has a good reputation, and several of my friends are members: however, I've never stuck with it long enough to gain access to its inner workings, and so cannot vouch for its quality (although I'm sure that a few of my readers will be able to advise).

WriteWords is a UK-based site which charges an annual membership fee but which does have a very high proportion of published and successful writers in its members: consequently, the advice that you'll find there is well above average, and very valuable. It's very writing-focussed, with an excellent peer-review system across lots of genres.

YouWriteOn. What can I say? It began with the excellent premise of providing writers with an online community and the chance for the best writers there to get a critique of their work from a professional editor or agent; but then in the autumn of 2008 it introduced a vanity publishing option which was neither well thought-out nor well-received. I really don't like its vanity publishing scheme; and from what I've seen, the standard of writing and advice on its boards are not nearly as high as you'll find on other boards.

Zoetrope has sections for novel-writing, short fiction, screenwriting, and all sorts. It has a slightly confusing system of public message boards with a subculture of private rooms, which any of its members can set up and invite people to join; it's well thought-of, and has a reputation for producing excellent writers through strong criticism and robust comment. I have taken part, but found the system of private rooms (where most of the action goes on) made it a little too scattered and time-consuming for my liking.

Further recommendations from our readers:

The Backspace Forum

Critter's Bar

The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror has a mixture of published and yet-to-be published writers. Also the chance to have your work critiqued by well-known authors or editors.

Scrawl: The Writers Asylum has a number of talented and helpful writers in several genres.

The Writer's Chronicle


ali said...

I wouldn't recommend WriteWords - at least, not to anyone under the age of 25. I paid my membership fee only to be told that I shouldn't be writing, as I was too young (19) and therefore had nothing of value to say. There was general agreement that young writers should have their keyboards taken away and be made to wait until they turned 25. But I wasn't the only one treated like that. I saw other writers dismissed for various reasons - they wrote in the 'wrong' genre, for example, and therefore weren't 'proper' writers.

Maybe it does have a high proportion of published writers, but if that's the case I'm not sure I want to be a member of a site with published writers - not if they all hold attitudes like that!

Emily Cross said...

Well ali, you should come over to our boards then lol. We do have a handful of writing professionals including published writers, editor and journalist but everyone is very openminded about anything and everything. we do though have a lot of aspiring authors, so our message board is more like a 'community' or 'support system' than an informational source

I have to agree about - one of the best out there, and has invaluable information!

Thanks for the links!

Jane Smith said...

Ali, that's an extraordinary attitude for anyone to take (I'm referring to anyone telling you you're too young to write, not to your comments here!), and your experience of WW is completely at odds with the various reports I've heard about WW over the years.

I'm sorry you had such a bad time there, but have to say it doesn't sound typical. Don't let it put you off trying other places; and certainly don't let it lead you to believe that all published writers behave in such a way.

Why don't you have a look at AW? You'll find a lot of published writers there, and a lot of friendly, helpful people, too.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Ali, I am really surprised to hear about your experience with WriteWords - as a member of two years, I've never encountered that kind of comment and have found the site to be encouraging, supportive and full of very good advice.

none said...

I was a member of Litopia for a while (technically, I still am, I guess) but it didn't seem the right place for bumptious squirrels, somehow.

Still looking for that right place, actually! lol

Kristen said...

Scrawl: The Writers Asylum has a number of talented and helpful writers in several genres. (

Sarah J. MacManus said...

The Backspace forum is pretty good; very professional.

Katy said...

Very sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience of WriteWords, Ali. I've been a member of WW for over 2 years and have found it a hugely supportive and dynamic community with a great mix of published and not-yet-published writers.

I've found personally that it's really worth shopping around and trying a few on for size until you find one that suits, so thank you for the suggestions, Jane.

Tania Hershman said...

I have also had a great experience with WriteWords, so sorry Ali to hear about yours, that's crappy and if it came from the members then I am sure the administrators would want to hear about it. I can put you in touch with them. I belonged to the Flash Fiction group for several years, they are wonderful, supportive, stimulating, interested.

I echo what Jane says about Zoetrope, I don't use the critiquing parts but the private offices are a lot of work to keep up with, although I've met some lovely writers through that, also supportive, a great community feeling. I will check out Absolute Write, thanks for this post, useful as ever!

Sophie Playle said...

I'm a member of

It's quite a small community (no more than 200 members) but everyone is really friendly. There is a wide mix of ability, from widely published authors, to published short-story writers, to people who write as a hobby, and beginners too. Highly recommended.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I found a few private offices at Zoetrope to be good places, much as I would a private writing group.

However. I also found others to be poor, where the ego of the owners needed constant massaging, and if one gave honest critiques, one was suddenly deleted. That I found upsetting.

The scoring system in the short story critique system is flawed and open to abuse. Whereas I'm sure there is much good honest reviewing, there is also the potential for friends to massage each other's work, rendering it 'top-scoring'- when actually... I have seen far better pieces left languishing with far lower scores than those belonging to the 'movers and shaakers'.

I asked a couple of good mates there what I did wrong, and was told 'Oh my God! You mustn't award less than a good/excellent to the people who have been here for years!'

Thats daft! I can write absolute cringing rubbish. I can also (when im on song and work hard) write well. I would NEVER expect or require people to give me positive critiques all the time. Thats 100% wrong, unhelpful to me, and the reviewer.

My own opnion, naturally.

I have not worked on Zoetrope apart from in one office (Where the One World anthology was put together) for years.

Critter's Bar is a lovely closed site. It's non judgemental, and allows writers of many levels and genres to work alongide each other.

I have them to thank for a 'flash a day' challenge a while back, which kicked off the micro collection that will be pubbed end of this year, if the fates conspire to keep Salt Publishing going.

BJ said...

I have to recommend the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, for writers of those genres. A mixture of published and yet-to-be published writers. Also the chance to have your work critiqued by well-known authors or editors.

K M Kelly said...

Well I'm a Litopian, Jane, as you probably know. It's well worth sticking around and getting full membership because then you get access to the critique forums as well as being able to ask questions directly of the resident Agent and editor. There are also a number of very successful published writers on there who are happy to offer advice. And I know of notheing like the Pitch Room anywhere else!!

Jane Smith said...

Thanks, all, for your suggestions: I've edited them all into my original post, so that they are easy to find.

catdownunder said...

I don't think I have found a space for my paws either. Some years ago I tried a more local writers' group. Quite a number of them were published writers. They were nice people but I just did not feel comfortable there. The members never criticised anything I wrote. I know learning to write is a lifelong process. Were my contributions so bad they just thought they had to be nice? I don't know. I eventually slunk away because I felt there was no support to be had there even though I was willing to be interested in what people were doing.
I have looked at some of the sites Jane mentions but I feel confused and bewildered. What is their purpose? How can they help me write? Am I just being selfish?
In the end I decided to keep my paws on the keyboard and just write. What else can I do?

none said...

Cat, the major benefit in using writers' workshops is in the critiques you write on other people's work, not in the ones you receive.

Sounds daft? It's true, though. You can really hone your ability to detect what works and what doesn't, and start finding fault with your own writing. Mind you, a few years reading slush has much the same effect--and without the critiques! lol

I'd have more faith in the OWW if the much-feted novel that came out of there, Temeraire, didn't display all the faults that I detected other members encouraging during my various stints as a member.

Laurie Paulsen said...

Thanks for the great recommendations; I'm always looking for new, welcoming and talented writers groups.
I've been a member of for the past year and change, and overall it's been wonderfully encouraging and motivating. Most members are working toward publication, but many have been published online and in print. The skill level, of course, varies, as does the quality of critique. But definitely worth investigating to see if the place is your cup of tea. :)

Dan Holloway said...

I'd echo what Buffy says. One if the fantastic things about critiquing sites is that you learn by reading with a critical eye that you can then turn back at your own writing.

I have tos ay I've gained from every site I've been a part of. I think site members often forget how lucky they are to have anyone read their work at all.

That said, I'd urge anyone to remember the danger of rewriting by committee. As an eager to learn writer, you will see value in every comment. and you should consider everything that's said to you, because you never know where you'll find that gem to change your work from base metal to gold. BUT you need to have confidence in your own voice, something that's hard to come across at first (but if you have even a trace of it, the melting pot of critting sites is a great place to develop it). You need to avoid the temptation to change things every time you get feedback, and to learn the lifelong lesson of using feedback as a tool to shape the clay of your vision, and not as the raw material.

Ali, I can only echo everyone else. I watched a BBC programme on T S Eliot the other night - he was 18 when he wrote Prufrock. I'll never be able to come close to that if I live to 81 and get better every day I'm alive! In January I stared a writers' collective. Our youngest member is 20 - she's also my cover designer, and one of the most talented artists and writers I've ever come across. Yesterday I started reading Less Than Zero, which was published when Brett Easton Ellis was 21. If anyone on any of these sites can write something better, I'll eat my beard live on YouTube. Age teaches you technique, but voice is voice, whcih is what makes your writing sing, and that you've either got or not - in fact, I would argue experience and learning the rules can sometimes do it more harm than good.

Nick said...

I'd just like to add to the list, a free and open writers forum I help to run. MWC has some very knowledgeable members, but it's also well-known for its friendly atmosphere and the warm welcome it offers to new members. Do check us out!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Can I pick up on Dan Holloway's points above... about not trying to rewrite according to every piece of feedback one gets?

When starting out, it is very easy to assume that a 'published writer' is an extraordinary being, next only to the gods. And that what they say about your work must be gold standard. Sadly, there are so many places (especially on the web) that will publish Aunt Fanny's laundry list, that the moniker 'published writer' isn't always as wonderful as it seems.

I was taught to critque by breaking down work into elements, and commenting on each element in turn, backing up what I said by text example. That was one of life's lesson's for me. I sét up my own place a couple of years back, and the first thing I did was encourage writers to adopt the same discipline. And to ensure wioork was posted anonymously - so the members are truly critiquing the words, NOT the writer.

Believe you me - if a writer has five or six 2000-word critiques on a short story from seasoned writers working in the same broad area, and they all say 'your characterisation is great' 'your plot is unbalanced' 'the pace is too even' but 'the thematic content is interesting/great/intelligible' and so on and so forth
some of those points must be worth considering.

Jane Smith said...

Valuable points, all.

Vanessa's post is particularly good (and I really like the sound of her private board) but my comment-du-jour is definitely this, from Buffy Squirrel:

"the major benefit in using writers' workshops is in the critiques you write on other people's work, not in the ones you receive."


Rachael King said...

Zoetrope is excellent if you are just starting out writing short stories. It can take a while to get to know people. I have been going for 9 years. I never post short stories anymore, but I have a trusted group of people to workshop novel chapters in a private office. My writing improved remarkably after about a year of constant writing, posting, and critiquing others' work. Now I just pop in for the social aspect and for some intense workshopping when i have a new novel. Some very famous, award winning authors started out on Zoetrope.

The public message boards can get a bit poisonous but often there are useful discussions on craft going on.

Sandra Cormier said...

I've been part of Absolute Write since I began writing novels in 2006. I find the community diverse, helpful, hilarious and absolutely wonderful. They are a great mix of new and seasoned writers, and I've been lucky to watch a few members hit the bestseller lists. I highly recommend this group.

They have members who are teenagers and retired individuals. You can get help from every corner, plus emotional support when your world crashes around you.