The Benefits of Reviewing Others

A person reviewing a document

I wrote recently about our project on MobileRead to put together an ebook anthology of short stories in public. I was a little anxious about putting my story drafts up in front of the group for criticism in full sight of the forum, but I was sure that I would benefit from the comments of the reviewers.

What I hadn't expected was how much I would get out of reviewing the work that the other members of the team contributed.

I'm sure those of you who attend writers' workshops are now nodding and saying, "Well, yes. Of course." but I've never been to one. I've toyed with the Arvon catalogue over the last few years, but I've been reluctant to go unless the course seemed to match exactly what I wanted, and the ones that did always fell when I had no time. (I've had to travel a lot over the last few years with my IT work.)

Rolling up my sleeves and reviewing the other stories for our anthology project exercised some mental muscles needed to cope with my own writing.

It's so much easier to see the pros and cons in someone else's story. With someone else's work all you have is the words themselves, while with your own it's hard to see only the words and not the cloud of story associations that you've built in your head.

After spending a week or so really thinking about the other authors' tales, I found that I was better equipped to look at my own. In this case it was an older story that I had been thinking would be right for my other contribution. This one had been through multiple drafts in the past, and had been put away and then looked at afresh and redrafted. When I reviewed it pencil in hand last week, I saw the big issues with it immediately. Lots of crossings out ensued.

Realising how good this was for me, I cast about on the 'net and found a forum devoted to exactly this process: the Online Writing Workshop. It's subscription-based, but there's a month's free trial and I've plunged right in. The setup is simple: you gain points for reviewing other writers' work, and you can spend the points on submitting your own stories for review. There are plenty of links to resources to help improve both your writing and your skill at reviewing.

I'm enjoying it so far. I'll let you know how I get on as time goes by.