The Writer’s Community

I never wanted to come to the point where I piss and moan about The Internet, but I’m at the end of my rope with Writer’s Communities online. I risk looking as foolish as claiming we wore onions on our belts (which was the fashion of the time) when I talk about how it was Back In The Day, but things are so different now.

And they’re not necessarily better.

I used to be a part of this writing group that was essentially just an email chain where we’d “Reply All” and send each other the status of our most recent work. For some, it was the novel they’d been working on, for others a poem or short story, for some it was simply a word count because they were cautious of plagiarism.

But we all shared something with each other, frequently bringing other people in and encouraging them to share as well. Then things like NaNoWriMo would hit and half of us would give it a go and the other half would either pish-posh it or rest easy knowing they’d “won” in years previous.

Within the decade after we started this group, over half of the people in it are traditionally-published authors, some even best-sellers. And I reckon that’s pretty cool. I don’t think the group can take credit, as I’m sure it was incidental to their journey, but it was still good for all of us, and I’d bet it at least shortened that journey.

But now? Holy cats, try starting an “email chain” now, I dare ya. So you Google “writer’s groups” or something similar, and you’ll get all these Pay To Play websites asking you “join” for a nominal fee and you’ll get access to the website and, more importantly, other people. Then it becomes this game of how to get other people to read and critique your work.

Some sites use a barter system, where you have to “crit” other’s work before you can submit yours for “critting”. When people feel like they’re forced to critique someone’s work, they’re not necessarily in the right mindset to even read your work, let alone provide a critique. You end up getting someone saying that your genre is incorrect because you selected (from the only 5 or 6 available) “Sci-fi” and since the first paragraph mentions a ‘plasma rifle’ then it needs to be in the “Fantasy” genre. Which, to this day, remains one of the stupidest things I’ve read in response to me sharing my work.

Other sites have “services” or other things available only to members. Even if I could afford $15 a month to be a paid member, all that I would be doing is upping my chances of getting in line to receive services that I would also have to pay for.

Some sites are for associations or other official-sounding organisations that purport to be “all about helping writers” yet their competitions and awards require payment to enter or are only available to paid members.

Paid, paid, paid. It’s all about the money.

Nothing is free. Nobody offers help for struggling writers. Nobody cares if you’ve got a great story but no money. There’s not even one website out there that’s got writer’s groups on it that only asks for money to keep the lights on re: hosting and such. I would have found a way to pay for that one if it existed, trust me.

Don’t even get me started on the forums either. A decade ago I was a quite active member of several and made some lasting friendships. Now it’s all bickering and one-upping. I recently waded back into one of them and floated some ideas out there only to be told that I shouldn’t bother, the ideas were too hard, too complex, and I was wasting my time even talking about them.

When I pointed out that it was MY time to waste and that I was merely feeling things out, seeing what people thought, this “distinguished member” (also a “published” author) had the temerity to tell me that time spent doing that was time away from my writing and that he was trying to support me in my writing, encouraging word count and all that.

Bearing in mind, this person knows nothing of my work, my published status or my CV as an author. A few weeks of cruising (lurking) on other forums and seeing that there were really only a handful of active users who seemed to post their every thought with another handful of replies. Any post that had double-digit replies was undoubtedly by one of the site admins with nothing but a slew of sycophantic “me too!”s following it.

Nobody’s pushing boundaries, sharing ideas and asking feedback. Don’t go anywhere near /r/writing either because that’s been nothing but early-teens asking things like, “How do people, like, write and stuff?” Even reading the post headlines I feel myself becoming dumber.

So that’s it. The end of my rope. Writing communities online are about one thing, making money. Nobody cares about helping fellow writers any more. Nobody cares about supporting someone on their journey to getting published.

Hell, I read one influential, best-selling author’s article the other day where they pointed out that writers don’t help other writers because “they’re your competition” and “writing is a business.”

Fuck that.

Back in my day, we realised that even if one of our fellow authors was in the same genre that there was more than enough to go around. People love books and they love to read. I know I do. So why not just write and write and write and give them something to read? Helping your fellow writers make their work The Best Thing Possible only helps you in the long run, because if someone reads something good they’re more inclined to move on to the next thing.

Giving readers something crap, consistently, is only going to damage their love of reading, not funnel them to you.


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