Rethinking the critiquing process

Feedback is one of the most valuable things to a writer. Critiquing groups have been a great help developing my writing and storytelling skills. However, the editing process after receiving feedback has always been cumbersome. I joined my first Internet critiquing group, a mailing list, in 1997. The tools available to writers haven’t improved that much since. I still end up switching screens, searching for passages and retyping. Printing out on paper is nice for critiquing, but even more tedious once you have to edit. You have to keep switching back and forth between the comments in an email, or forum post and a word-processor. Searching for text passages, while remembering the comments or corrections. Retyping and editing. Then switching back to the post, finding where you were and starting all over again.

This has always seemed a great time waster. Something which adds unnecessary work to the editing and review process. On top of that, people frequently forget to quote the passage they commented on, leaving you to guess exactly which passage they meant. Even Microsoft word with its ability for several people to edit each other in different colours still looks awfully cluttered and takes a lot of work. The whole concept seems to be borrowed from making corrections on paper.

Let’s face it, the editing process is a difficult task. You are passed the inspirational momentum which helped you to write your first draft. A lot of that initial excitement has passed. We all know the feeling. It’s part of the creative process, but that doesn’t mean it has to be more complicated and time-consuming than it needs to be. I’ve been thinking how the process could be improved with modern tools. A better designed critiquing process could produce feedback that is more focused. Less work editing one piece, gives me more time to work on the next.

crit showing a correction boxPaper can only show one layer. Computer screens can display multiple layers. We don’t need to stick with paper-based editing models which use margins. I stumbled upon the idea of using little speech bubbles to hold corrections and comments. They pop up when the mouse is hovered over the highlighted text. They can do more than just hold comments though. Think about the critiquing process itself. What is involved? You post your text, you wait for a critique, you review and edit your text. Why have all this in one cluttered document, as in Word, or a long thread of forum or email posts? Wouldn’t it be simpler and clearer to divide the process into separate steps?

crit action icons

Wouldn’t it also be useful to make it easy to invite people to critique your work? Posters could send direct links to their work, inviting others to critique it via Twitter and email. They would still need to be members of the community to view the text, but you could easily notify anyone. Finally, I would like to open up critiquing to writers of all kinds. So far, critiquing groups have been focused on writers of fiction. Why shouldn’t writers of non-fiction, bloggers and students, not also critique each other’s writing? I found it helpful to critique a diverse range of writing, not only that in my genre. More diversity could benefit writers of all kinds.

The application I’ve designed is called Crit. I’d like to invite you to try it out soon. Crit contains all the features I’ve mentioned above. Watch the video to see it in action.

Sign up now and invite your writing friends. That way, enough people will be around when the doors open. Why is it invitation only? First I want to ensure that it’s a service for people serious about their writing. This means a higher level of respect for other writers. A private beta limits the number of people using the service. This keeps any server costs manageable, since I have to carry any costs myself.

The only prerequisite for the private beta is that you link to your blog or other writing sample on the sign-up form (send me a sample by email if you have nothing online). This is to ensure that only people join who are actively writing. It’s not about big numbers. It’s about creating a quality community of people who care about their writing. Request an invitation to the private beta now. Click the image below, sign up, and be notified when it begins. See you there.