New Writers Resource: Online Writing Groups
There are plenty of sites out there, but I have only ever used two, and can only speak on my own experiences. As such, this is not necessarily an endorsement of any website. This is just to encourage new writers to use writers groups to improve their work.
New Writers Resource: Online Writing Groups
New writers need critical review of their work as it progresses. Through my online writing group, I learned a lot about my writing. I don’t mean that I learned a lot about writing in general. Of course I did, but learning specifically about “my writing” was different. A writer can learn as much about grammar, developing a character, imagery, pacing, etc as they want, but it will never give them a reader’s perspective on their work.
I’ve been a paid member of CritiqueCircle.com for a few years now and I dabbled on Scribophile.com for a while. If you don’t know what either site is, and you’re a new writer, you’ve been missing out on some tremendous tools to help you improve your craft. Both sites are active communities of writers (though critique circle seems to be a bit slow at the moment) dedicated to critiquing each other’s work. It’s like a perpetual writer’s conference on line.
A reader’s perspective is a crucial step in the writing process. After working on a piece of writing long enough, I lose all objectivity. I can't even see missing words because my brain fills in the blanks with what it thinks I wrote. It’s frustrating. I’m great at spotting other people’s errors, while my own remain almost invisible. I think the same is true for lots of new writers, and that’s what makes tools like CC and Scribophile so useful.
People are incentivised to critique other people’s work with a point system. After you have earned enough points, you can post your own work into a critique queue. When your place in the queue comes up, your work becomes available for review. The cycle goes on like that forever – everyone taking turns critiquing everyone else.
I had a paid membership to CritiqueCircle before and while I wrote Dark Communion, and I think it was worth it. For $10 a month I maintained my own private queue (which bypasses the wait time) for my novel among a host of other features. I will not tout the benefits here, I’m not an affiliate, and I’m not here to advertise premium memberships. Try the free stuff first, and make sure it’s the site for you before you commit to anything. But if you don't have a dedicated group that you already work with, online writers groups like CritiqueCircle are invaluable.
My deep and abiding love of fantasy began when I was six when I first saw the 1981 film Dragonslayer on VHS with my father. He loved fantasy movies too, but didn’t have the courage to be a dork about it like I did. That movie was a gateway drug that led me straight to the hard stuff - CS Lewis. I was far too young for such potency but by the time I was ten I had read the whole series. That’s when I found my first Dungeons and Dragons group. When I started playing, my friends and I used pre-made campaign settings and published adventures, but I quickly grew restless with their limitations and trite story lines. I needed my own persistent world: something adaptable to my whim and that no one else owned.
Back in my day, there was no internet, so I took out every book about castles and medieval history from the school library and read them in Math class (I'm still terrible at math as a result). I came up with an entire world and brand new history. I read books on cartography and hand drew maps of my new world. I created a cosmology, a hierarchy of gods, and the tenets of their religions. I read the Dungeon Master's guide a dozen times, and every fantasy novel I could get my hands on.
Then, one day, I sat down and told my friends, "Hey guys, wanna try my story instead?"
Even 15 years after the original D&D campaigns ended, former players tell me that they share our incredible stories with their children. I'm honored to say that most of those players still have their original character sheets 16-20 years later, and a couple have even named their children after them.
Now, I'm 39 years old and a loving father of 2 girls, and I still play those games on occasion. My passion has evolved into putting those ideas and amazing stories on paper for the whole world to enjoy. My first novel took me and co-author DC Fergerson 10 years to write and topped out at 180,000 words. Being too long and too complex, I finally ended the project and took its lessons to heart.
I learned that Dungeons & Dragons did not translate well into a novel. D&D made for great times, but also for some meandering plot lines, pointless encounters, and poor character motivations. No matter how memorable some of the moments were, if I wanted anyone to read my story, I needed to learn a lot more about writing.
I threw myself into being a full time student of novel crafting. I read every book on writing by Dwight Swain I could find. I paid Chuck Sambuchino (Editor for Writer's Digest) to critique and edit my older work. I took James Patterson's Masterclass, went to college, and joined online writing communities. All the while, I read my favorite fantasy novels again, only this time with a mental highlighter. I reworked my stories, outlined them, and decided to start from the beginning.
Many, many years later, I am in the final edit and proofreading stage of Dark Communion, the first installment of the Shadowalker Chronicles. My role as a father of two girls heavily influenced the characters I’d known for over 20 years, shaping them into women that my own daughters could respect. My characters took on a depth and quality that brings them off the page and into the minds of readers, because they have become all too real. I was privileged enough to work on two careers at the same time to accomplish this feat - a fun-loving and involved stay-at-home dad, and a full time writer.