This Free Innovative Workshop Could Make You a Better Writer

By Stevie Lynn Smith May 11th, 2015

When many writers finish a first draft, there’s often a honeymoon phase when they’re in love with the finished product, too close to see any flaws. Then comes the revision process, which is when the honeymoon phase turns to dread. If you’re getting a draft critiqued by someone you know, any sort of intimacy with the reviewer usually results in hurt feelings. And finding an unbiased perspective from someone you don’t know can be a difficult scavenger hunt of its own.

Scribophile, a collaborative writing website full of writing groups and workshops, may have some solutions to this age-old editing problem. The site runs on a point system of “karma”: Editors who leave comments on work receive points; writers who post their own work use existing points. And the editors can earn various karma bonuses based on the length and quality of their criticisms.

Anyone can sign up for a free basic membership. There’s also an option for a premium membership that costs $9 per month or $65 per year, which gives you some deluxe features such as unlimited messages, advanced formatting options in the text editor, and the ability to post an unlimited number of your own drafts at once (as long as you have the requisite karma points).

The site, which has been around for about seven years, was created by software engineer Alex Cabal, who has kept a very hands-on attitude with the site since its start. After I signed up for the platform, I even received a personal email from him welcoming me and offering assistance if I needed it.

I declined, since I wanted to look around on my own for the sake of this piece, but I did take the opportunity to ask him about his motivation for starting the site. Cabal told me, “I love reading and literature, and I wanted to see if I could take those new technologies and create a community for writers that wasn’t just modern, but welcoming and nurturing to new talent.”

The idea of nurturing that new talent stuck out to me. For anyone who has spent 10 minutes on the Internet, it’s clear that when a piece of writing goes online, there’s a good chance it’s going to get bashed or trolled. So far, Cabal’s words don’t seem to be hyperbole. I also received messages from a few other writers welcoming me to the site after I’d signed up—a nice change of pace from the vitriol I was half expecting.

In terms of functionality, the site is simple and easy to navigate. I had no trouble finding my way around the different tabs labeled “Forums,” “Groups,” and “Writing.” The only trouble was figuring out where to go first.

When first signing in, users are given a checklist of tasks to complete before they can post their own work. Though annoying at first, it was a great way to get to know the site before diving in. And when I got to the discussion forums, I even forgot about posting my own work for a moment. The community was eager to discuss literary and writing-related topics, which stimulated new ideas for my own writing. There’s also a useful “Academy” section that features extensive guides on topics like “Passive and Active Voice” and “He Said, She Said: Dialog Tags and Using Them Effectively.”

After exploring, my next step was posting a critique of someone else’s work. As of now, it looks like the site deals primarily with fiction and poetry, but regardless of the genre, the editing was high quality. Users can give a small comment—”I like it” or “I don’t like it”—or a more formal response. These critiques can be a long paragraph, as part of a template, or in the form of inline comments—a welcome amount of flexibility for those with different editing styles.

In terms of posting my own work, I was apprehensive about hearing back from anyone since there are so many people contributing. It seemed like it would be easy for my work to get lost with the continuous rolling in of submissions. Scribophile tries to account for this with a “spotlight” taxonomy that gives new writers prime positioning for comments.

Still, the visibility issue was kind of a problem for me. Your work can quickly fall from the spotlight, and free memberships can be a bit limiting in terms of how much you can post at once (a maximum of two active posts). That being said, these issues can be resolved by getting a full membership—which seems like an affordable investment if you have a strong need to get people to look at your work.

As a freelancer, I see the particular appeal of Scribophile. Its main benefit is that the platform gives you access to a network of writers who are interested in communicating with constructive criticism. The people here are not just interested in literature—in my opinion, they knew what they were talking about when it came to editorial standards and style guidelines.

So if you’re a writer looking for some unbiased feedback on your work or a place to sharpen your editing skills, Scribophile is a good place for you to start.

Image by YanLev
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