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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Scribophile: Learning How to Swim with the Sharks

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey


Freelance writing can be a universe of contradictions. You want a paying gig, but you want to retain your independence. You want a steady stream of projects, but you’d like to work at your pace and schedule. You want people to read your stuff, but you’re terrified of critics. And while you always work to refine your art, you still consider yourself to be the second coming of Hemingway.

It’s a crowded marketplace. There are tens of thousands of freelance opportunities out there, but there are tens of millions of competing hopefuls as well. In a perfect world, our doorsteps would be the battleground as reps from Random House, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster engage in fisticuffs over our book rights. But let’s be honest. This is not a perfect world; if it were, there would be no need for writers.

The writer’s quest to (covertly) improve themselves can turn into a twisted path lined with all manner of personal torture and self-doubt. One can hopefully avail themself of a writer’s course of instruction, until it is discovered that the “instructor” is another vain-hopeful freelancer trying to pay the bills while in between gigs. There are hordes of websites that offer tutoring and critique, but like all things internet, it is fraught with deception and deceit. So when a quality website presents itself, it can be a true godsend to the aspiring writer.

Scribophile (http://www.scribophile.com/) bills itself as “The online writing workshop and writer’s community.” It is all that and more. The Scribophile neighborhood is an interesting mix of published authors and hopeful newbies, all sharing their work with each other with the idea of getting quality feedback. The ability to post your work is dependent on earning “karma points,” which can be accumulated by reading and commenting on the works of other authors who have posted. There are rules, of course, mostly aimed at keeping intact those fragile writers’ egos. The reviews must be to the point and expressed as positively as possible. The commenter can either write a free-form review or use a template response. Members have apparently checked their egos at the door, because there is almost none of the caustic, deprecating slash-and-burn reviews that instead of helping, can crush a person’s spirit.

While it is a friendly group, it is also ferociously pragmatic. If you’ve never had your work professionally critiqued, you may find yourself cringing the first time you read responses to your posting. But this is how a writer improves. If you’ve been the recipient of a long list of rejection notes (when publishers deign to respond at all), then it’s time for someone to take a long, hard look at your writing and truthfully tell you what you may be doing wrong. I’ve never met a writer yet who didn’t feel they were brilliant; it’s part of the innate optimism required to continually serve up the subtle craftings of your heart only to be filleted mercilessly on some editor’s cutting board. But in order to grow, to get better, to truly have the opportunity to succeed, this is the road you must walk.

Most of the submissions are short stories and multi-chapter books, although poetry, essays and newspaper columns make the list as well. The accumulated experience of this community provides great value to the advice they give. Also included are a writer’s blog and a forum where members can provide the value of their experience. The site owner runs contests on a regular basis, all revolving around some sort of writing project.

Becoming a writer is a difficult process, one that requires personal courage, humility, and the willingness to work at it. Diving into the waters at Scribophile can be challenging, but well worth the occasional dose of bruised pride.

It’s how we get better.
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