Friday, September 23, 2005

OWW SF and F

I finally joined the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy (a mouthful that is thankfully abbreviated to OWW SF&F -- oh wait, that's still a mouthful...). So far, I'm impressed. I got a good impression of their customer service when I realized I had mistyped my email address, so wouldn't receive the password email (Note to future web designers: Always have your users type their email address in twice when they register. An incorrect email address is a "single-point failure," to use the shuttle engineering term -- if that one thing fails, the whole system fails.). After a brief search, I found the email of the person to contact for lost passwords, but this was at 4 PM Pacific time, so I didn't really expect a reply until today. Imagine my surprise when I had a response with the new password by the time I got back from teaching at 9 PM! Very professional, and I was impressed by it.

There are a number of "how-to" articles in their "reference library," and while I haven't read too many of them yet, the titles seem to indicate they contain fairly standard info for the beginning writer. The difference, however, is that each is written by a published writer who also happens to be an OWW member. So, in theory, if you have questions about the article, you could contact the author directly (although unlike most online workshops, OWW does not have a bulletin board system that I can find). Some of the articles were written by the editorial staff at Del Rey books and that is treasure beyond price. The authors, good as their advice may be, don't have to concern themselves with whether or not they would buy your work. Not so with the editors. Getting this kind of feedback is somewhat rare, and almost worth the $49/year right there.

And speaking of famous authors, OWW's "Resident Editors" (all big names, such as Kelly Link, who just won a Hugo) review a submission each month. Now you're getting comments from an accomplished pro. Even if your piece is not selected for review, reading what they have to say about someone else's work is incredibly valuable. I sometimes don't find amateur critiques to be all that helpful, since beginning writers often can't identify what is not working in the piece. Being able to see what the pros have to say helps everyone as the beginning "critters" get to see examples of a first-class critique.

Getting to a piece to critique is simple and straightforward. You can choose which genre(s) you are interested in working with and sort the resulting list in several ways. Out of consideration for the little guy, I usually like to critique a piece that hasn't gotten a review yet -- I know I hate waiting for someone to pick up my piece. OWW's interface makes that easy. Four critique points are needed to be able to submit your own work, but you are given four just for joining the workshop, so you can submit right away if you want. I'm really joined this workshop to get my critiquing skills back in shape, not necessarily to get my own work critiqued, but I'll probably submit something eventually. I noticed a lot of novel chapters in the list. I'm not sure I'd want to start with chapter 19 of someone's novel, and I'm not even sure I can do a good critique of a single chapter. That would be interesting to attempt, though, as I've never tried it before.

At the end of the day, so far I recommend OWW. I'll be sure to post updates as I begin to really get into and work with their system.

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