Writing alone isn't enough to help you improve; you need FEEDBACK.
Before you go and say "Wait a minute! I get feedback all the time and it hasn't done me a bit of good," allow me to clarify what exactly I mean by feedback.
What Feedback IS and ISN'TFeedback, in its most broad sense, is any response to some process or activity. For our purposes, the "process or activity" is writing. Much harder to nail down is what exactly constitutes a "response" to writing that will help a person improve said writing.
- Your parent cooing over his/her child's latest "masterpiece."
- Your friend giving your paper a quick one-over and saying "Looks fine to me."
- Comments (from friends, family, strangers, bosses, even teachers!) such as "Good" or "I like it."
- Any comment explaining WHY someone did or did not like your work.
- Any comment pointing out WHAT about your writing is good or bad.
Surprisingly (or not), the kind of feedback that is most beneficial to writers is the kind of feedback that is most beneficial to non-writers as well.
Why Feedback is Important
Without any input about your output, there is absolutely no reason to believe you would change anything you are doing enough to significantly alter your product.
For example, say you throw some ingredients together into a bowl and two hours later have a vanilla cake. Unfortunately, one of the ingredients that did not make it into that bowl was vanilla extract. Even more unfortunately, you didn't taste your cake before serving it to people eagerly anticipating vanilla flavored cake.
Now let's assume you made enough batter for as many more vanilla cakes as you want to bake. Unless someone tells you that your vanilla cake is lacking in the vanilla department, you won't know to add vanilla extract to the batter. "I don't like your cake" just isn't going to cut it when it comes to helping you improve your recipe.
Online Sites to Get Feedback on Your Writing
Now that you know why you simply cannot mature as a writer without receiving constructive criticism about your writing, here are some sites to help you GET that feedback (listed in no particular order):
Absolute Write - http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums
You can post your academic essays on the forum titled “The Soapbox (P&CE Writing Lab),” or you can look at the essays already posted to get inspiration for research paper topics and/or to see models of essay writing (and what readers look for in essays). This website provides SO much more than just a forum to post your essays. There's a forum for practically every aspect and genre of writing!
Essay Forum - http://www.essayforum.com
This forum deals exclusively with academic essays. Since it's free, don't expect to get a reply immediately (scroll through and see how many essays are still waiting for someone to comment). Even though you have to be patient for feedback, it's better than nothing if you have no one else you can turn to for essay writing help.
Writing Forums - http://www.writingforums.org
Scroll down to the “Non-Fiction” essay and see the subsection labeled “Essays.” The number of other forums the site has for general writing help is worth noting.
Fiction Press - http://www.fictionpress.com
Go to the “Essay” section to find the academic essays. Again, be aware of how many essays on the site actually ever get reviewed.
Write, Submit, Get Feedback! - http://www.tutorwriting.com
This young woman is actually offering her FREE tutoring services online for essays. You e-mail her your essay and if she chooses to use it on her blog, she'll e-mail you back and give you in-depth feedback for how to improve your writing assignment. Look through her previous blog posts for great examples of writing that needs improvement and the very useful advice she gives to each writer.
Booksie - http://www.booksie.com
This site is mainly used for writers of fiction works to get feedback on their writing. If you go to the “Non-Fiction” section, though, you'll find subsections for essays and articles.
Critique Circle - http://www.critiquecircle.com
This site is ONLY for non-academic stories. If you enjoyed the creative writing assignment and want to continue to write short stories but cannot or don't want to take a formal class, this site will provide you with the feedback you'll need in order to improve.
Keep in mind that if you post your work online, you must be able to prove YOU are the original author of the work because your writing WILL be found through general search engines (leaving you open to accusations of plagiarism).
Photo credit: Karl Horton