Saturday, September 08, 2007

Online Writing Groups

I'm considering doing a piece on online writing groups and thought I'd toss the idea out here to see if it generates any discussion. I think there are pros and cons to online groups. Here's what I'm thinking so far:

1. never have to leave your house.
2. online groups can be larger, thus providing more feedback.
3. a member can set their own pace for how they post and respond to posts easier.

1. online groups tend to come and go faster than physical groups.
2. anonymity of net may lead to harsher criticism than is good for new writers
3. online groups typically don't form as strong emotional bonds.
4. online groups constantly get new members, which means a lot of redundancy in dealing with issues.

Anyone have anything to add to either pros or cons? What am I missing?


Angie said...

I've done both and I prefer the online version. Largely it's a matter of logistics -- when a group has to physically get together, there's always a limitation on the amount of time they have, so everyone's rushed, and because they're dealing with paper copies it's a pain (and can get expensive) to make all those copies. Then you have to take notes by hand and make sure you got everything you wanted to get written down.

I learned some things from the realspace group, definitely, but it was very common for people commenting to be cut off or rushed along so we'd have time for everyone to get their thirty seconds in on each story. It was pretty clear that a lot of people didn't have enough time to really think about what they wanted to say or how they said it, much less to say it. And either trying to scribble down everyone's comments on my copy, or trying to go back and forth between a dozen or twenty other copies of my story to make sure I got all the comments was time-consuming and frustrating.

In contrast, with an online group I can take as much time as I need to critique a story. When I do a critique in a WP file it's not at all unusual for it to take several hours. I'm brutally thorough and give a lot of explanations and examples if a writer seems not to understand something (as opposed to having made a typo or just missed something.) I can make specific comments in the story file itself, in-line with the relevant passages, and then add more general comments at the end of the file. When people comment on my story, I can easily copy/paste comments into a working file and have them all in one place.

The downside to that is that, having made an investment of two or three or eight hours in someone's story, it's even more aggravating to get blown off, or get handed a defensive attitude, or a passive-agressive Poor Little Me! thing, or whatever. It doesn't happen all that often, since most people join workshops because they want to learn and grow and improve, but every group I've been in had at least one or two people who were apparently there because they expected to be petted and praised and fed chocolate. [eyeroll] It's easier to ignore them if you've only put five or ten minutes into critiquing their story, than if you put five or ten hours. :P

But on the whole I've found I get much more feedback out of an online group, because people have time to give it to me. And that's true even when the structure of the online group means I only get comments from two or three people -- two or three sets of thorough, written comments are still more helpful to me than fifteen short, verbal comments. I guess YMMV on that, depending on the group and what you're looking for.

The social aspect is about the same, I've found. I have no problem feeling close to someone I only know online (I met my husband online, in fact, and we just had our eleventh anniversary) but the group dynamics are just as likely to work or not to work online as off. Finding the right group is always the biggest hurdle, and that's true whether you're in realspace or cyberspace. I think cyberspace might have an advantage because you can hop around and shop for the group which fits you best, whereas geography's going to be a big limitation on what's available in realspace. But making the group work once you're a part of it is about the same either way.


Shauna Roberts said...

An advantage of the online group is that many people do not live in or right by a major city. There may not be any other writers within driving distance. Online groups offer them a way to connect with other writers.

An advantage of the in-person group is that words supposedly only convey 10% or 20% of the information content of communication. When you're live, you've got facial expressions, hand gestures, and tone of voice to add context and nuance to people's comments.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I've only done on ground writing groups. I think writing groups are great, but everyone has to understand that they have a half-life, kind of like certain relationships. I think a great writing group lasts about two years and then starts to fray, but the upside is that I still workshop with people from writing groups of yore (my main writing partner I have had since I was nineteen -- too many years ago to admit! and he has been in many a writing group I have.) I also think it's a matter of what stage you're in whether they work or not -- I find myself needing them at certain times a lot more than others. I haven't done a writing workshop in a long time, but I don't rule it out. On-line would be cool in a certain ways given the constraints of physical space. But I would miss the snacks and drinks. :)

Bernita said...

Do we have the same spirit guide, Charles?
I had planned to blog about writing groups sometime this week.

Drizel said...

Online is easier....I need something like this now, that I am trying to finish my firs novel.

Voting started on my is the link:)

Enjoy the sunday:)

Stacia said...

I think with an online group there's slightly less chance of having one person dominate. I'm sure it can still happen, but a forceful personality can completely overrun an in-person group simply by virtue of being there.


Charles Gramlich said...

*Scribbles information frantically as he makes notes of what has been said*

"Thanks, thanks. This is of great help."

Etain, I already voted for you.

Danny Tagalog said...

I think online groups the more confident will flood the board. In a distance learning course (not creative writing) I did recently, this occurred, but it's inevitable isn't it?

I also think anonymity is good for certain types, but you really do have to get some face to face meetings to gel it together.

Travis Cody said...

I've never been in a writing group, either in person or online. I get nervous about critiquing other writers, and often my comments become of the "I liked it" variety, which I'm sure is nice to hear but isn't really all that helpful to improving a story.

But to your question, I think for me an online group would be more effective at this time in my writing. One of the more difficult things for me now is finding time to write. So making time to go to an in-person group would be tough for me.

Erik Donald France said...

Do both, or a mix, why not?

Online brings in more global diversity, or could. Such as reading Danny from Tokyo!

Good topic.

Shauna Roberts said...

On the more personal level, my live critique group chose its members (and now replaces them as needed) based on personality, which is far easier to assess in person. We wanted compatible, polite people who would not waste critique group time arguing and who could deliver hard criticism in a useful and constructive way, not in a demeaning or gloating way.

As a result, we've ended up with a mix of genres, writing levels, and special talents. That has turned out to be valuable in many ways, such as always having an outsider's perspective for one's work. Yet online, I think people often look for group members of the same genre (or even subgenre) and level.

So one advantage of an in-person group is the ability to better mix-and-match personalities and critiquing talents.

the walking man said...

*shrug* Never been in a writing group but I know when someone puts something out there in the public domain it is open for a critique. My own work as well.

I prefer honesty brutal or courteous; beyond like it/hate it tell me the freeking flaws.

Not that it matters because it is there and what is on the page is what I wrote. I am kind of a fan of the New Generation writers. Bu I certainly would consider what has been said. Giving the commentators time at least that much respect.

But unlike them (New Generation era writers) I think every piece can accept criticism, I personally would like face to face and Michelle can tell you that at times I can be brutally honest about someones writing.

Yet an on line group of thick skinned people committed to their genre (not their ego) would be good. Committed being the operative word.



Lucas Pederson said...

Me? I'd rather not have a group, to tell you the truth. Too much talk and not enough writing. But that's me. I know groups are a good thing, just not for me. But, if I were to choose, I'd pick the physical over the cyberspace version. Better one on one stuff there. You get to see the emtions your work produced in each member.
But, I have to say, having a blog and making friends here, my writing has improved a great deal. That with the feedbacks and great advice everyone has given me. So I can't diss either one really. Still, if plegued with a the choice, I'd still choose physical over online. Great post buddy

Lisa said...

I'm in the middle of an 8 week novel writing workshop where we meet for two hours one night a week and there are ten students and an instructor. It's a great experience for me because it's a very condensed workshopping environment where all ten of us will have a 10-12 page excerpt critiqued by the group. The best thing about it for me is that it's giving me a very good idea about what makes a critique group work well and what the pitfalls are. I agree with Shauna that personality and critique skills are probably the most important aspects of productive critique sessions and this would apply online as well. Jan Brogan at the Jungle Red Writers posted that her writing group screens potential members by taking a look at writing samples before taking new members in because they also feel that it's important that they like the type of work each of the others does. I've already found that although it's not impossible, it's much less enjoyable to critique a piece of work that in a genre I don't enjoy reading. Strong, agreed upon guidelines about how critique sessions are conducted also seem to be key to making them productive. I believe The Writers Group has also posted about how they conduct their critique sessions. Both Jungle Red (mystery writers) and The Writers Group (various) are linked at my place if you're interested.

Travis Erwin said...

I have done both and while I think in person groups work better there are some people who simply do not have access, or the tiem to meet with other writers at a set time and date.

Sidney said...

I agree online brings a wider range of participants together. I've always managed to be in smaller towns where writers groups were not that strong.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks also to everyone else who stopped in and added their comments. This was a big help. This piece is done and will probably appear in a future Illuminata. I'll let everyone know when it comes out.