Monday, 1 February 2016 A Review

As of this writing, I've been using Figment for over a year. (Yes, I know if you check my profile it says I joined in May '15, but I'll get into that later.) Over the course of that year, I've learnt quite a bit which I think might be useful to anyone looking at joining the Figment community. Or anyone with a spare 5 minutes who wants to read a blog about such things.

I cannot fathom the mysteries of the internet... So, without further ado, let us begin.

How It Works

Like many other sites, the user is given a basic profile for entering info and uploading stories. Users can post messages on each other's walls, there are groups to join and even badges to earn for completing various achievements, such as earning certain amounts of hearts (the Figment 'like' system) and other reactions to your stories.

Here is a screenshot of the profile set-out (mine, obviously), which you can visit here if you're so inclined.

There are a number of ways which one might use this website as there are also forums and a vast library to peruse. Sometimes the site itself hosts its own competitions, or has blogs written by guest authors, or even more awesomely, has a guest author do a Q&A. I can even say that I've asked James Dashner (author of the Maze Runner series) a question, and he answered it.

I thought that was pretty cool...

I typically spend most of my time there doing 'swaps'. This involves hunting around through the library or following strings of wall posts, messaging as many people as I can in hopes of finding someone who will agree to read my work. Comments and reviews can be left on each piece of writing, along with the aforementioned hearts and reactions: laugh, cry, shiver, blush and wow.

The more hearts a piece of writing has, the higher it can be ranked in the library. I'm not sure if there could be a greater purpose to all of this yet, other than a vanity thing, but time will tell.

The Good

One of the best things about this website is meeting other (good) people and getting (useful) feedback on my writing. I love learning and this can be a very instructive experience, especially in terms of how to give useful feedback, knowing how to deal with certain types of writers, and above all, seeing how others react to my work.

Another thing is expanding my writing paradigm, which is something I sorely needed without even realizing it. Before joining Figment, I'd spent over ten years working on only two different (although interconnected) projects. Through competitions and daily prompts, I've pushed myself into writing things I never thought I would -- including a contemporary piece with no speculative elements whatsoever. I know right? Miraculous! If that's not stretching myself, I don't know what is.

It's a good bet that none of these stories would have come into existence if I hadn't joined Figment.

It was a steep learning curve for me to come down from 100,000-word novels to stories that needed to be over in less than 5000, but totally worth it. I'm a much stronger writer now because of that.

In terms of the actual site mechanics, Figment is easy to navigate and makes the process of uploading a story fairly easy, too. (Much easier than Wattpad, at any rate. Just sayin'...) I've seen that there can be some formatting issues depending on which word processing program you use, however I haven't experienced it myself so I can't really comment with much authority on the matter. I copy and paste straight from an MS Word document and it works perfectly.

What's more, some other story-sharing sites I've investigated displayed the users' writing as Blogspot displays this post. What I mean is it's highlight-able. If you wanted, you could select this text and copy it. Figment does not allow this (or, at least, I don't think it's possible), which is very reassuring to a writer, believe me.

Coz thar be pirates in these here waters!

Now, I don't know if this is important to other people, but for me, websites need to have a nice aesthetic as much as they need to be easy to use. Figment looks alright, especially compared to those other sites I visited before joining. Even better is the story-reading window, which is tinted light grey or sepia (depending on the author's preference) so it's easier on the eyes.

Nice one, Figment. ;)

The Bad

As with any online community, it can be let down by its most douchbaggy members. Some users are just out to collect hearts or followers, and they don't seem to care about improving their writing or respecting those they come into contact with. Most swappers would have had the experience of writing out a review for someone, only to never hear back from that person again. Others would have typed up an honest review with helpful comments about what might be improved only to be whinged at or even abused in return.

How dare you not worship them!

"The internet: you will never find a more wretched hive of spam and villainy."

(Okay, I totally stole that line from Nella...)

To be fair, the most loathsome and self-serving of these creatures are few and far between. In maybe a hundred interactions I've only come across two or three of them. They're rather balanced out by the truly wonderful, intelligent and insightful people I've met. The trick is to be very observant.

From what I've been able to gather, Figment began back in 2010 as a site for American teenagers to share their work. It's opened up now, but still seems to be largely populated by the original crowd. A few of them seem to want to keep it that way, too, or at least haven't noticed the change. This isn't a huge thing, as I've only been discriminated against for my age a few times, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

We're all just folk, in my opinion. No-one should be judged for being born in the eighties or any other decade. That's just dumb.

There are a few mechanical things that stick out, too. Users are able to create groups, yet not change the name of them or delete them. Figment admins will happily do it for you if you email them, but it seems a needless contrivance. It also seems very out-of-date that posting a URL into a message or forum will not automatically turn it into a link.

This is my actual cheat sheet for inserting links and pictures and whatnot. It's not the easiest stuff to get right, either, unless you're trained in that sort of thing. I really feel this aspect of the site could be better.

These things are by no means game-changing, but I do like to give honest reviews and that entails looking at things both positively and negatively. The next section, however...

The Ugly

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, I've been using Figment for over a year and yet my profile doesn't reflect that. This is because my original profile was deleted without warning or explanation. Not only that, but none of the emails I sent inquiring about it were responded to.

Imagine my horror! All that time and effort I'd put into getting feedback on my stories, gone. Not only that, but I was in the last round of a competition so I was already stressed enough. Because of this whole debacle, I wasn't able to give my all in the finals and my entry suffered for it.

In another incident, I had a swap go sour and a 'delightful little madam' basically attacked me for asking her a question. She was incredibly vicious, even threatening to report me, and made me never want to use the site again. I have depression, also, so dealing with such bile isn't easy for me. To top it all off, I emailed an admin, explaining the situation and asking for a bit of advice on how to deal with it.

The response was basically, "It happens. Get over it."

Oh, gee... thanks.

These are only two incidents out of many, and they're obviously not going to happen to everyone, but they need to be noted. This is how the site has portrayed itself to me so this is how I tell it.

In Conclusion

So, who is this website really for? If you're out there for in-depth and professional writing advice, probably not you. I probably wouldn't even recommend Figment to you're only interested in writing novels because most users don't seem to like reading anything more than a few thousand words. If you like writing short stories and/or poetry, however, this might be a place to check out. You can have a lot of fun entering competitions and swapping/chatting with other writers from around the world (although mostly the US).

Be aware that you do need to work for it, though. People aren't going to immediately flock to read your stuff, no matter what the adverts with the poignant music might say. (Looking at you, Wattpad. Your time may yet come...) I might even do a how-to blog on Figment at some point because there's a bit of a method involved.

Who knows?