Written by A Guest Author April 30th, 2019

Zoetrope: An Excellent Source of Feedback for Your Writing

by Silver Damsen

One of the axioms of being a writer is that one has to write. I agree; writing is the most important aspect of being a writer. If one doesn’t write, one isn’t a writer.

The second most important is to publish. Unfortunately, the distance between writing and publishing can seem daunting. The free online American Zoetrope workshops have helped me breach this gap. Setting up an account is simple. On the far upper-right of the screen of this main page click “JOIN NOW” and set up an account. One generally has to read and critique other’s work to post one’s own, but it varies from section to section on the number of works one must review to be allowed to post one’s own work.

I spend the most time on the short story section, which is also probably the most heavily visited. There are usually about thirty stories up at a time, and they are retired off the active page after 29 days. Zoetrope also has workshops for screenplays, novellas, short scripts, poetry, flash fiction, photography, and novels.

Again, this format is entirely free and is associated with the Top 100 literary journal Zoetrope. However, to find and become a member of the free workshops, one should key in “American Zoetrope Writing Workshops” (if one isn’t using the link provided earlier) to whatever Internet search engine one uses, and not “Zoetrope” or even “American Zoetrope.”  Keying in simply “Zoetrope” will be interesting but will probably direct someone to the submissions section for the journal, or perhaps to the paid and professionally led classes. Keying in simply “American Zoetrope” might direct one to information on the film company.

In addition to the convenience of the free online format, written critiques are generally more useful than oral ones. In my experience, verbal feedback has tended to be vaguer. Written feedback has been better at getting to more complex as well as stylistic issues. Also, if comments are very harsh or too gushing with praise (either deservedly or not) written format allows one to step away and revisit it at a later date. If one is just trying not to cry, scream, or plan the “Introduction” to one’s first best-selling/award-winning book or whatever, it can be challenging to listen to verbal feedback.

I’m also extraordinarily satisfied after going through my third major revision of one of my early Zoetrope stories: it’s finally getting to where readers like it as much as I do.

I think feedback was crucial in helping me understand why my POV character wasn’t appealing. And I’m not sure I could have discovered that on my own, or if I had it would have taken me longer. Other workshopping experiences, such as paid classes, will not only tend to be more expensive and less convenient, they aren’t as likely to give that kind of continuity.

I’m not saying Zoetrope is perfect. I’ve been annoyed when a solid story earned a 2 out of 10 possible points from someone who either didn’t understand the ranking system or just wanted to be mean.

The way the ranking system works is that you can assign a piece any number between 1-10 with additional notes on how to interpret the scores of 1-10 for those that aren’t satisfied with the obvious interpretation of 1 being beyond dreadful/the lowest possible score and 10 being perfect/or perfect enough for a workshop. From my experience, most scores are between 6 and 9, probably influenced by the standard grading scale in schools and universities, where 7 is “low-average.” The Zoetrope explained scale is more generous and goes into the differences of “good,” “very good,” “excellent,” and then whatever is beyond “excellent.”

However, whenever one submits one’s writing to others, there are going to be people who find delight in just being mean. The advantage of Zoetrope is that at least one doesn’t have to pay money, or wait weeks or months, to be told that one isn’t the next Hemingway. They receive this information for free, and it’s available whenever one wants to log on.

Another aspect of the free Zoetrope workshops is that some people post without the intention of incorporating feedback. They publish just to be heard. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I understand it. One has that urge to write and wants others to appreciate the effort. The urge to share one’s work is nearly intrinsic to wanting to write. So, not surprisingly some on Zoetrope are there for this reason. Thus, if that is what one is looking for, one can find it.

However, if one wants to revise, revise, and revise again, and not have to pay someone for the privilege of hearing one’s work isn’t quite there yet but is getting closer and maybe doing x (whatever x might be) will push the story to the next level,  Zoetrope is ideal.

Silver Damsen took creative writing classes at University of California, Riverside and California State University, Long Beach. She earned a PhD in English literature from University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. In addition to academic publications, her fiction has been published in Your Impossible Voice.


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