article, review, writing

Best Software for Socially Distant Writer’s Groups

My writer’s group is finally back on track!

After a few months hiatus, we’re meeting regularly again and it feels great to have the encouragement and accountability. The only difference is we’re not currently meeting in-person due to the ongoing pandemic.

We’ve experimented with a few pieces of software for our critiques and meetings, and I wanted to spend a few minutes outlining some software we’ve been leveraging, along with Pro’s and Con’s.

Google Drive

A good tool for collaboration, but not the best because for true, fully-featured use your members all need Gmail accounts, and to use the Chrome browser. While Gmail is massive, there are still plenty of people who don’t use it. So while its tool sets are impressive, needing your members to be in Google’s ecosystem to get at them is a drawback.

Dropbox

We’re big fans of Dropbox. It allows everyone to submit their critiques securely, using version control. It now allows you to edit in your browser with Word, so as long as your group is using .DOCX or a compatible format, you can edit and add comments to collaborate. Plus you can use it with almost any email account or device. Our group wouldn’t effectively function without it.

The only drawback to Dropbox is the overall storage limitations, but if you are only using documents you can store a ton of them before needing to pay for any additional space.

ZOOM

We tried holding ZOOM calls because they were so intuitive, and it’s become a ubiquitous application during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, ZOOM ultimately didn’t work for us because of its time limitations. We run 90 minute sessions, and that was longer than ZOOM’s free tier allows. Sure, we could all keep re-creating meetings, but that was inconvenient. After our trial ran out we migrated elsewhere.

DISCORD

Discord has worked really well. No time limits. Solid audio and video as well as screen sharing. Plus we’ve been able to have consistent, asynchronous conversations in its channels. The only drawback for DISCORD is the gamer-centric focus. It is focused on gamers and uses lots of “cute” icons and lingo, that may work for its target audience, but for any less tech savvy writers in your group, might be confusing. Interface quirks aside, it’s a good choice, especially if you have a group that is knowledgeable about technology.

SKYPE

Microsoft has done a lot of upgrades to SKYPE since they took it over. This tool was fairly common on a number of devices even before COVID-19 turned us all into digital hermits. Skype is a good choice for group meetings because, like DISCORD, there are no time limits on the free tier. It also has proven audio and video, as well as a relatively simple interface for those who aren’t as strong with tech. Skype also works on both MacOS, Windows, and Android devices.

Conclusions

After experimenting with the different software listed above, my Top 3 takeaways were as follows.

  1. Use a tool that is accessible to the majority of your group
  2. Use a tool that has full functionality for FREE
  3. Use a tool intuitive for the least tech-savvy member of your group

I hope you are inspired and still writing out there, staying safe and healthy. If your writing group happens to be on hiatus, just know that it’s totally possible to keep your critiques going by leveraging technology!

3 thoughts on “Best Software for Socially Distant Writer’s Groups”

  1. My in-person writing critique group has been on hiatus since probably fall of last year, my being the baby of the group and the rest not liking to venture out in the winter months. We haven’t tried to do the online thing. It’s funny, I use Dropbox for work, a lot, but didn’t think of using it for “play.” And then, I know my boys use Discord to chat with gaming friends buy I didn’t think of using that as a Zoom substitute. Of course, I need to be writing to be able to share anything for critique and that’s been slow-going. I hope your writing–and critiquing–is back on track. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rebecca! Our group was on hiatus for about 3 months, and when the local library we used reopened with the caveat of group activities “suspended until further notice” we knew we had to do something. Just having the group active again has actually gotten some of us out of this massive creative slump, which is a blessing for sure. Discord is nice but definitely intimidating for non-gamer or non-tech folks. We’re bringing more members back next session and trying Skype with a larger audience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just knowing there are critique partners ready to read and waiting for your work certainly helps put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Glad you’re out of the creative slump! Clawing my way out, myself.

        Liked by 1 person

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