Happy New Year, everyone! As one of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve resolved to write biweekly updates to my blogs (every two weeks, just to clarify). So be on the lookout for more writing-themed blog posts in 2015!
I stumbled on Scribophile, an online writing sharing community that strives to create a social media platform for writers, while I was participating NaNoWriMo last November, since it is an affiliated website. Overall, I recommend Scribophile as the most comprehensive website for writers seeking feedback on their work that I have seen thus far. I think it has a lot going for it, and I recommend that you check it out. It is not perfect however, and its complexity can seem daunting, especially when you first join it. I’ve been using it for about a month now and I’m still getting the hang of it.
Scribophile is mainly a platform for sharing writing and connecting with other writers. Essentially, on the site, you can read other writer’s work and critique it, using various methods including “in-line” comments, or a form with specific questions about particular aspects of the work, such as its plot, structure, or characters, or a “free form” critique in which you write whatever you want. For each critique, you earn a certain amount of “karma” points. The number of points you receive depends on how long your critique is, and on a number of confusing factors including whether the work is in the “Main Spotlight” or not or whether you have added the author to your favorites. I haven’t quite figured out the way to maximize karma points yet, but even if you just edit whatever things you find interesting, you’re bound to get some points from your critique.
Once you’ve accumulated 5 karma points, you can post a work on the site. Each work “costs” 5 points, so once it’s up there, you have to start all over again building up karma points. You can also submit your work to a number of contests on the site, but that will also cost you some karma points. A “work” is usually no more than 5,000 words, so if you have a longer story or a novel, you can post it in chapters. This potentially allows for you to create a serial following, like on the sites JukePop and WattPad (see my article about them here). But Scribophile is not just for novelists. You can post short stories and poetry on it too. Once you’ve posted a work, you sit back and wait for the critiques to roll in.
One of things I really do like about Scribophile is that it is a website for serious writers. The critiques I’ve received on the site so far have all been pretty detailed and insightful. The karma points system creates an incentive for people to write longer critiques. Also once you’ve received a critique, you can give it one or more labels including “enlightening,” “thorough,” or “constructive,” and for each label, the editor will receive a few karma points (but not nearly as much as they get from the critique itself). When you receive these labels, it also increases your reputation on the site by giving you “reputation points.” Reputation points have no tangible benefit, as far as I can tell, but they represent your experience as an editor.
The site also makes you tick off an agreement saying that you will write constructive edits and will not just insult the writer and/or their work, which I found to be comforting. Obviously, it’s an honor system, but if you find a critique particularly mean-spirited, you can report it. Scribophile’s rules, while complex, do create an environment where serious, respectful editing gets done.
The site also contains forums, groups, and contests, really attempting to create a sense of community among its users. I still prefer to bond with writers in person, but it is nice to have that option online. It also acts as a quasi-social media site, allowing you to write message on other writers’ “scratchpads” and to announce publications. It also contains its own blog with writing advice, interviews with writers, and the site’s latest updates, and it has an “Academy” section with articles specifically written to help you tackle writing challenges. The amount of sheer stuff on the Scribophile website is a bit overwhelming, and I’ll admit I haven’t had time to sift through all of it. But I’m sure a lot of the resources on the site are really helpful.
The site does have some drawbacks, however. First of all, Scribophile is primarily used by people writing novels. This isn’t a bad thing of course, but the way that it’s site posts the newest chapters of writer’s works up for review on the “Main Spotlight” is a little strange. When you’re flipping through works to review, you will see novels that are on Chapter 21 or 39. How are you supposed to jump in and start editing from that point in a story you haven’t read? Scribophile tries to solve this problem by allowing writers to post summaries of previous chapters so that reviewers have some idea of what the hell is going on. But I don’t think reading the summary of a plot and then editing a chapter in the middle of it is very effective or helpful for the editor or the writer. So far I’ve tried to avoid editing novels that are very far into their plot, instead I’ve been editing short stories or novels on Chapters 1, 2, or 3.
Of course, if you have several hours of free time, you read all of the chapters that came before the one you want to critique (but by that time other people will have critiqued it and it will no longer be in the spotlight, meaning you get fewer points from critiquing it). Or, you can find some novels that you like that are in a nascent stage, add the author to your favorites, and then get updated every time he or she posts a new chapter. I personally think it’s far more helpful to edit stories knowing their entire context.
Secondly, Scribophile requires a good deal of patience and free time (luckily, I have both). Depending on whether you choose to edit stuff from the Main Spotlight or not, it can take you a while to rack up 5 measly points to post one chapter. In my case, it’s usually taken me about 3 critiques to gain 5 points. I think Scribophile did this on purpose, so that everyone is getting at least three responses to everything they post. But still, it means you have to spend a lot of time critiquing other people’s work.
Thirdly, the feedback you get on your writing from this site can be thorough, but it also can be a bit overwhelming. You can get opposing reactions from two different editors. Of course, this happens in any situation in which you ask people to review your work. But when I ask my friends who are writers to review my work, I know their work too, and I know, in general, when to trust their advice and when to ignore it. If you’re just getting random critiques from different people, it’s hard to know which suggestions you should consider. I’ve had a similar experience before in writing workshops. The difference, though, is that in a writing workshop, all of the writers are in dialogue with each other. They hear everyone’s comments on a particular work, and then discuss them, coming to somewhat of a consensus on it. Since, on Scribophile, you’re not required to engage with the other people who have critiqued the work you are critiquing, the website does not manage to replicate a workshop experience.
Still, these flaws are by no means deal-breakers. This site has a lot offer, and you might discover that you really like it.