So last week, I did an overview on Absolute Write for those who hadn’t heard of it, detailing some of the most helpful boards (such as a query letter critique forum and one to find beta readers! All here in my last post.)
But for those of you who’ve heard about Absolute Write and are considering joining, I wanted to give you the heads up.
First the disclaimer: Absolute Write is a FANTASTIC resource. It definitely helped me become the writer I am today, got me in the know, and helped me meet a wonderful group of writers. I even got to beta the first two chapters of Beth Revis’ Across the Universe because we met on Absolute Write.
On the other hand, this site gets a bad rep, sometimes. And when you’re new or confused, it can be difficult to sort out what’s true and what’s just someone ranting about their bad experience.
So here it is: a list of needs-to-knows about Absolute Write, and the pros and cons of each.
It contains wealth of information about the publishing industry and submission process.
For those still trying to sort out how the publishing industry works, this is great. You’ll learn all the basics and a lot of the advanced material as well. Including material about advances. (Bad pun. Bad pun!!!) For newbie writers who think they’ll wrap their manuscript up in a nice box with some twine and mail it off to a publishing house, this will give them a bit of a reality check. And let’s face it. We need those reality checks sometimes.
It’s easy to focus too much on getting published. Hanging around the AW boards when you’re writing a first draft can be torture, and because it all sounds so exciting and businesslike, there’s an internal urge to jumpstart the submission process. This results in a lot of newish writers diving into the world of rejection letters before they’ve ever focused on craft, and a lot of older writers will seem to have plateaued. This, in turn, results in people turning to self-publishing and POD prematurely, because they have been doing this for X-many years and are ready to be published. Simply put, they got overeager and then disappointed too early on.
You’ll tap you into the writing (and blogging) community.
One of the hardest things about writing, and any art form at all, is that it’s so isolating. We create for ourselves but we crave other people’s appreciation. Writer’s need other people for support and encouragement, for wisdom, for networking and beta-reading, for mentor and mentoree relationships all across the board. Absolute Write does this. You’ll meet other writers in the same boat as you, and when writing a first draft, having other people care (and talking to you through the cave walls, so to speak) can be a life saver.
Community is great. Distractions are not. Some days, it’s a whole lot easier to go on Absolute Write and talk about writing, while never actually typing a single word. It can be a time-suck if you’re not careful. And it’s very, very easy to get into the “wish I had written, don’t want to write” mindset. On top of that, the community is very single-minded. Sometimes fighting for your creative license can be like swimming against the tide. And finally, it’s easy to feel legitimized about, say, the quality of your novel, just because the people at Absolute Write told you it was submissions-ready.
They’ll push you.
You’ll be whipped into professional shape in no time. All those embarrassing newbie mistakes (like calling a manuscript a book, or saying “fiction novel” in a query letter) will be corrected in no time. You’ll learn a lot of the inside phrases and rules such as show-don’t-tell, BIC (butt in chair) and no ly-adverbs. You’ll feel educated, invigorated, mildly intimidated, but equipped. The AWers won’t accept any crap when it comes to procrastinating and they’ll encourage you to improve your craft.
Every new writer needs to learn the rules, but eventually you need to learn when and how to break them. AWers have a tendency to strip away any rule-breaking they see, even if it lends to quality or voice. Plus, if you continue to break the rules, there is a lot of lecturing involved by older members who think you’re just being obstinate. I think every AWer goes through a period of feeling the pressure of the community weighing down on them, resulting in guilt and stress. AW tends to focus too much on the rules, and forget about things such as recharging, guilt-free writing methods, inspiration, or how to slow down and improve your craft rather than push for marketability.
Finally, AW has no patience for people who aren’t sure they want to go all professional yet. If you’re noodling around and just want people to praise your first drafts, it won’t happen there.
They’ll help you develop a tough skin.
If you’re going to survive the publishing world, you’ll need to remain persistent, and you’ll need a tough skin. It’s that simple. Learning how to deal with constructive criticism, query letter rejections, editorial feedback, bad reviews–it’s essential, because rejection never really stops. And AW will not coddle you. AWers ask other members to rip their piece to shreds, and the other members will. They’ll do it nicely and helpfully if they can. But they will in fact rip it to shreds.
Not everyone can take having their work ripped to shreds. Tough skin takes time to build, and AW doesn’t have much of a grace period, although people will try to be more conscientious of newer writers. But you’re basically expected to take your medicine without complaint, protest, or justification. And because they strive for excellence, they can always find something new to comment on. Sometimes this is discouraging and confusing. And for the newbie writer, who is still dabbling at this, who haven’t gotten a taste for it yet and are still trying to decide if it’s worth the effort–all this criticism can push them in the wrong direction.
And two final pros and cons:
As a writer, you’ll grow up in this community, and you’ll grow fast. They’ll foster you along the way and equip you with skills and resources you’ll need to survive in the publishing industry. You’ll hear names, and later those names will become published and even famous authors, and you’ll become connected without even realizing it. (Remember when I betaed for Beth Revis? I was just being nice, but she remembered me later on. It’s a connection I couldn’t have made now.)
Eventually you’ll grow out of this community. Although I am definitely speaking from personal experience, I’ve also heard from a lot of other writers who started in AW and slowly moved out of that sphere as they got more independent and gained agents or publishing contracts. There becomes a point when you realize AW is repeating the same things they’ve always said, and they don’t have anything more to teach you. On and off you might get frustrated with the critical nature of the community there, and you might start leaning more on your crit partners or agent. This isn’t a bad thing…it’s just part of the natural progression of maturing as a writer.
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All that said.
The takeaway, here, is that Absolute Write is really and truly a fantastic resource, but you need to be aware of how best to use it and whether it’s right for you. If you’re new at writing and you’d like to improve, but you’re not ready to face too much criticism yet, you might want to lurk around the boards for a while and soak up the information first. When you feel like it’s time to step up your game, then you can join and start asking questions and requesting critiques. Even more established writers would find AW helpful.
But the caveat is, you’ll always need to keep a balanced mindset about what you’re learning there. Definitely do learn how to follow the rules. Realize at some point you will learn how to break them, and that this is okay. Don’t feel you have to follow everything they say to the letter. Learn how to be your own judge–and learn how to judge yourself critically. Develop your tough skin, and then surround yourself by people who know how to encourage as well as suggest constructive changes. Put yourself out there, but don’t be in too much of a rush to get published. Learn how to write for yourself first.
That’s my two cents, anyway. As they’d say on Absolute Write, take it with a grain of salt.