Friday, 16 March 2012

Writing.com: LETDOWN



Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.
-Franklin Jones, US journalist

Constructive criticism is about finding something good and positive to soften the blow to the real critique of what really went on.
-Paula Abdul, Singer

Well, I used this writing review website, as planned here. I stuck it out for a week. I uploaded my work to writing.com, and dished out a load of reviews. The site let me down. It let me down badly.

Here's what I liked:

There is some good poetry being displayed. Some.

Here's what I didn't:

Inside the list of items to be reviewed, there are an awful lot of pieces labelled “Interactive Story”. I thought this would be a kind-of choose-your-own-adventure type affair, with the reader making decisions at the turn of every page. I was wrong. These items are actually unfinished stories that the original author is inviting you, another site user, to finish off. Now, I think this is an interesting idea- getting other contributors to provide your twists and turns would spur your creativity and force you to write something that you might not have thought you were capable of. The thing I don't like about this is that these projects are listed in the same area as the finished stories and poems that are waiting for actual reviews. People like me, who are specifically looking to give and receive feedback, have no way of filtering out the interactive content that doesn't help us. So looking for finished pieces to review becomes hard work. Oh, and the one interactive story I checked was crap.

The email system within your writing.com homepage inundates you with message after message featuring random tips on writing. This is all good advice, but this is mixed in with all of your reviews and feedback on reviews you've given. It makes it very hard to pick out the type of message you want to read. Surely each of these notifications should be found in their own section within the site, no?

There is a feedback page that allows you to see reviews written by other writers on other people's work. Some of these reviews are atually good quality, but here's the problem: the actual articles that the reviews relate to aren't listed there! So the reviews are totally out of context!

The search functions generally aren't brilliant. I searched the static items (standalone pieces like short stories or poems) for poetry in particular. This gave me a list of poems waiting to be reviewed. Rolling the mouse over each item reveals a little more information, including genre, item type (poetry obviously) and item size (bytes and approximate word count). I couldn't filter to get poetry of one genre, like erotica (the genre I'm working in, so it makes sense to review these).

Let's say you submit a review for a piece of writing. You then go back to the list of items to be reviewed. The piece you've just critiqued should ideally have disappeared from this screen to avoid confusion. But it doesn't. When you review a number of pieces, You're likely to forget the names of the poems or stories, and only remember the content. Writing.com makes things difficult by keeping these pieces on the review page, meaning you have to search out your next piece to review.

I reviewed a piece of Glee-based gay erotic fan fiction. The content knocked me slightly sick- partly because of the association with a dogshit TV show and partly due to the depictions of hardcore homosexual sex. Regardless of content, it was still terrible. I pointed out to the author that the Glee fanbase is probably a bit young to be reading graphic gay erotica. He agreed, but then admitted “I only really write things I post on here for the sake of writing them” and that he doesn't care if nobody reads it. It feels like there are a lot of writers on writing.com who are equally as “dedicated” as the Glee guy was.

I later reviewed a story about a vorophile being shrank and eaten by his wife. It was truly awful, although an interesting introduction to the fetish. I explained to the author what I liked, what I didn't and how good it could be with a few adjustments using the Compliment Sandwich technique.

He replied with “This was by far the most thoughtful and detailed review I've ever had.” Now, by telling you this my intention is not to brag. I'm still seeking feedback, and I'm not making a living of writing. So I can't be totally awesome. Not totally. I'm trying to point out that people are not giving constructive criticism to each other on writing.com. When you mention “criticism” to people on this site, as I did over their Facebook page, they hear it as a dirty word. They imagine it as a callous call-out against their work. My response: If it's not constructive, it's not real criticism. It certainly wouldn't relevant. The Glee guy seemed to be the only person on the site to understand that if you don't have any criticism at all toward your work, you will NEVER improve. Everyone else seemed completely na├»ve to this, and for that reason I'm not going back to writing.com.

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