The most important tool in the writer’s toolbelt is her fellow writer. ♦
But some writers don’t have access to English departments or writing clubs or week-long workshops. Especially the youngest of us—those writers in middle and high school, who have the most to learn—don’t always have the courage or even the means of transportation to allow them to look another writer face-to-face and say, “Here is my work. Rip it to shreds.” For these writers, and others looking for more opportunities, online communities become especially wonderful. Now, every writer with an internet connection can find a network of peers who will read her work and provide feedback on anything from word choice to grammar to content. Writers learn how to give and receive this criticism as well as how to promote oneself in order to gain a readership, and keep oneself motivated and accountable for her own writing. These skills are invaluable when entering the literary marketplace.
Every writing community is unique, which means every writer can find one that best fits her style and habits. Here are three online writing communities that many writers have found useful, but keep in mind there are many more that may fit your specific interests waiting to be discovered:
At first glance, Wattpad can be a little overwhelming. Out of these three communities, Wattpad’s user base is by far the largest—over two million registered users—which means more and more content is added with each passing second. It is this size and heightened activity that gives Wattpad users the greatest potential to gain a large readership. In order to get the most out of it, though, simply reading and interacting is not quite enough. To take full advantage of Wattpad’s size, you have to learn how to self-promote without alienating or harassing potential readers. You have to market yourself extraordinarily well to other writers who are trying to do the same to you.
|Best for: short stories, |
poetry, novels, fanfiction.
Ignoring its size, Wattpad’s design and mission is incredibly straightforward—you read, you write, you interact through messages and forum posts, it just has a little more caffeine than the others. With all of its liveliness and focus on content, Wattpad is one of the easiest ways to get eyes on your work. Whether those eyes linger and propel your work into something greater, or move on and let it fall among the masses, is something of an abstract art. The best advice I can give is write the best damn piece you can, and hope it sticks. But I suppose that applies to all of these communities.
Figment was created out of founders Dana Goodyear and Jacob Lewis’s fascination with the popularity of cell phone novels—literally stories shared from phone to phone by readers in an age before smartphones made sharing stories commonplace—amongst teens in Japan. The goal of the website was to make an incredibly mobile platform for writing and reading written works of all varieties, and they’ve succeeded. Every possible function on Figment’s regular site is made accessible through mobile platforms, making it perfect for the writer on the go.
|Best for: short stories, poetry |
collections, flash fiction, novels.
Figment also hosts regular writing contests, with prizes ranging from work promotion on the homepage to signed advanced reading copies (ARCs) of popular forthcoming books, and even cold, hard cash and scholarships. Most of these contests run on a “hearts” system, which acts as a sort of popularity contest; the work(s) with the most hearts win. This can sometimes make helpful feedback a secondary concern (beware of the heart-swappers!), but of course, contests are only one part of Figment that makes it stand out. Like all good writing communities, honest engagement in the active forums will earn you good faith and helpful criticism (along with some superfluous hearts). For writers connected in the mobile age, Figment may be right for you.
Protagonize was the first writing community I ever joined, and I’m glad I did. The community is relatively small—approximately twenty-six thousand registered users—which makes the site modest in its content and helps keep it easily navigated. The closer-knit community encourages users to be incredibly friendly and supportive of each other, regardless of age. This doesn’t mean Protagonize is too small to help a writer gain an audience, though. In fact, the relatively small nature of Protagonize makes the best works more visible while the community is still active enough to allow for more diversity in experience, content, and depth of feedback.
Protagonize also has an additional emphasis on collaborative writing, encouraging different writers to add to the same work, if the original author allows it. One example of this is the “addventure” format, where instead of one page or chapter leading linearly into the next, readers are prompted to select the branch of their choosing. These branches are sometimes continued by the original author but sometimes new authors jump in. Similar collaborative structures have led to epic poetry projects like My Life According to That Pen Over There with over 482 pages and counting since it started in 2009, along with countless group adventures. For writers looking for a close-knit community with the opportunity for unconventional writing experiences, Protagonize may be perfect.
All of these websites are helpful in one major way: they provide writers with access to a network of peers and mentors that a writer may not otherwise have. Some sites promote the development of self-promotion skills, which is invaluable when it comes time to publish a book or collection through traditional or self-publishing means. Other smaller sites allow for deeper critique and feedback on your own use of narrative arc, tone, character, and have the potential to connect you with other writers who may point out things you have not considered before. Sites that encourage collaboration or experiment with less-conventional styles of poetry and prose allow for stretching of creative muscles that may otherwise remain unstimulated if a writer is left to her own devices. You get out of online communities what you put in, but for someone without any other options, or even someone looking to supplement their “real life” communities, they can truly unleash unknown creative potential.