Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
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Holly Lisle's Vision

Del Rey Digital Writing Workshop

By Vicki McElfresh

2001, Vicki McElfresh 

After overcoming serious server problems from about a year ago, the Del Rey Online Writing Workshop is back.  This workshop was my first introduction to the world of online writing communities.  A year ago when I began posting chapters of my WIP on the Del Rey Online Writing Workshop (DROWW), I was pleased, though occasionally annoyed, by the workshop format.  The crits I received weren't always good, but I was still disappointed when DROWW went offline.

When I first received an email from the workshop coordinator for DROWW, Ellen Kay Harris, I was a bit surprised.  Curious, I signed back up.  Because I had participated in the original workshop, signing up was a bit of an adventure.  I didn't remember my original user ID or password, so I had to create a new one, which the DROWW database did not like.  After four usernames, I finally got into the workshop, and was disappointed almost immediately.  

One of the features of the old workshop that I did not like was the rating system.  I had hoped the new workshop would have a new critiquing format, but it didn't.  The rating system was still alive and well.   The system works on a scale of 1-5 in five different categories: professionalism of writing, setting, character development, plot credibility, and dialogue.  Based on the number of crits, each submission will score a cumulative rating.  I suppose that ratings are a good way to see how well a piece is received.  The problem I have is that they don't reflect the quality of a piece at all.  I've read pieces on DROWW that have overall ratings of 3's but are well written, well plotted, and well on their way to publication.  I've read pieces with overall ratings of 4.5-5, that I suspect will never be good enough to see print.  

I could live with the rating system, if the written critiques reflected the ratings.  More often than not, I see stories receive 3's in the plot category, yet the critiques have no comments about the plot.  I've seen stories receive 5's in the professionalism and have two pages of grammar comments.  I often receive 3's for character development, but I almost never get comments on what is wrong with my characterization.  In my opinion, this defeats the purpose of the workshop to "help you grow as a writer."  Most of the crits I have received have been shallow, short, and not all helpful.  

The DROWW does have some nice features.  My favorite is the requirement that each participant has to earn at least 3 review points before a submission can be posted.  Each story reviewed earns a participant 1 review point, unless the piece has no reviews at all, then it earns 2 points.  When I first joined, I was given three review points to post one submission and try out the workshop.  After that I would have to crit more pieces in order to post anything new.  The nice thing about this feature is it ensures that pieces receive at least one crit, often two, without much effort from the poster.  The catch is there are so many pieces listed on DROWW (approximately 2000) that in order to receive more than one or two crits, a writer must review other submissions.  Doesn't sound so bad?  The problem I've discovered is that even those people who promise to return crit, usually don't.   For me, this means that for every six or seven stories I've reviewed, I might have received two crits.  Because of this, reviewing on DROWW can quickly become a full time job, something I don't have time for.

Another nice feature is the actual submission process.  DROWW lists pieces by type, short story, fantasy chapter, sci-fi chapter, or a mix of sci-fantasy.  The writer is also given a checklist to tell what stage a submission is in, early draft, middle draft, or polished draft.  Comments about the submission can be posted in the "Author's comments" box.  The story or chapter is pasted into the submission window.  When the submit button is pressed a preview screen will come up that will show both the story as it will appear on the workshop and also in the submission screen.  It's a great way to check for HTML tags that aren't closed, add spaces between paragraphs, etc.  Another click and the submission process is over.  It's quick, simple, efficient, and a great improvement over the original DROWW.  

Perhaps the best feature of the DROWW is the Writer's Resource page, which has links to other writing related sites are listed by types, organizations, other workshops etc.  A few of the links, such as the one for Inkspot, are out of date, but most are working.  If DROWW isn't for you, then perhaps this resource page can lead you someplace better.

The workshop is free.  If you are looking for a forum to use as a sounding board for how a story might be received, DROWW is a good place to start.  If you are a serious writer looking for ways to improve, DROWW is not the place for you.  

Del Rey's workshop can be found at: http://delreyonlinewritingshop.com