Monday, November 5, 2007

Confessions of a Forum Junkie

Maven Jacqueline BarbourOnline Communities for Writers: Can't write without 'em, can't write because I'm too busy participating in 'em.

That about sums up my feelings about all the places I've found online to procrastinate by talking craft, research, contests, or other aspects of writer life with other writers. But I'm probably getting ahead of myself. Allow me to explain.

When I first started writing seriously back in February of 2006 (and by "seriously", I mean I started thinking, "Hmmm, maybe I can write something that could actually be published"), I did my writing the way I always had in the past: all alone and for my eyes only. I didn't know anyone else who was an author, either aspiring or published. And I certainly didn't want any of my friends or family reading my story. It was too rough and I was too insecure to consider letting anyone who actually knew me have a look at it. Who knew what they'd say or, worse, think? Nope, no way was I sharing!

I plugged away at my keyboard and was soon 40,000 words into my story. I was very efficient, but I was also very lonely. And, in the end, while what I was writing wasn't bad, it wasn't very good, either.

Enter the Internet. Desperate for some interaction with somebody somewhere who knew something about writing a romance novel, I started searching for for writers' groups via the time-honored Google method.

I should admit that long before I start subscribing to various Yahoo! loops and other fora for writers, I had been a Usenet newsgroup junkie for years. I discovered newsgroups in 1997, shortly after my first son was born, and quickly became addicted to the various parenting groups. They were a great place for a new parent to whine, ask for advice (and sometimes give it), and simply connect with other people going through the same experience.

So, when I started looking for other writers to connect with, it just came naturally to look online. I started in Usenet, but didn't have any luck finding really topical group there, but when I went to Yahoo Groups, and there I stumbled almost instantly across a group called Aspiring Romance Writers.

Well, I'd be darned if that didn't sound just dandy. I requested membership immediately, and so began the path that led me to:

  • Meeting the Mavens

  • Discovering RWA (which I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't even know existed!), discovering contests (which I also didn't know existed)

  • Participating other writers' communities (including Avon FanLit, the one-year anniversary of which we pretty much celebrated a few weeks back with the call story of Tessa Dare, the grand prize winner).

From there, my community involvement expanded into the blogosphere (curse you, Smart Bitches/Trashy Novels, for the many hours I have spent snorting tea over cover snark when I should have been writing) and a number of other Yahoo groups. I hooked up with a couple of critique partners through the RCW Critique group and joined the Contest Alert group to keep abreast of breaking contest news. I joined The Beau Monde specialty chapter, which also has a Yahoo loop that is wealth of information, insight, and experience. When I gained RWA PRO status, I joined the PRO loop. And finally, when Cobblestone Press contracted Carnally Ever After, I became a member of their wonderful writers' community, which includes an online forum and weekly chats (both of which are open to readers as well as writers) and began reading many other blogs too numerous to name.

I firmly believe my involvement in all these communities has been a net benefit. I've learned so much about the craft and the business of writing from the people I've met.

But it does have its downside: It becomes difficult to keep up with all of them! Balancing the time I'm devoting to my writing career between visiting loops, blogs, and chats (I've been doing a lot of promotional chats for my book lately, too; in fact, tomorrow, I'll be at Novelspotters at 9pm eastern--come visit if you can!) can be tough. And when a scene is coming slowly or painfully or I just don't "feel" like writing, it can be awfully easy to start clicking the mouse to avoid the hard stuff.

YOUR TURN: How many online communities do you belong to? How much of your writing time do you devote to them? Have you discovered any particular benefits or pitfalls I didn't mention?

P.S. I'm very pleased to announce that Deanna Lee, co-founder and co-owner of Cobblestone Press, will be guesting with us on Friday. In addition to being a publisher and acquiring editor, Deanna is also the author of Undressing Mercy and Barenaked Jane, with more releases on the horizon. We're tickled pink to have her.


Carrie Ryan said...

How many online groups do I belong to? Snort! Too many to keep up with! And you're right, it's really easy to spend time with the groups rather than write -- I constantly struggle with that balance. I also spend a lot of time blog-hopping and my new addiction are message boards: AbsoluteWrite and VerlaKay.

When I look back on it, I've learned a TON from these groups and now I feel like it's my job to share what I know with others.

Erica Ridley said...

I agree--I've learned sooo much from online groups. (And blogs... While Miss Snark was in business, I spent a good hour each day clicking refresh. *g)

Bill Clark said...

Ah, Jacquie, you have raised the dilemma of the modern writer in the internet age. It begins slowly, as illustrated below:

Bill reads Diana Peterfreund's SSG1, loves it, and from the dust jacket discovers her blog.

Bill decides to leave a comment on her blog. Has to join Blogspot in order to do so.

Having joined B'spot, Bill feels compelled to start a blog of his own.

Pretty soon the operation of time and chance (with a dash of providence thrown in) leads Bill to discover the Mavens. And suddenly nothing is ever the same again....

I don't "belong" to any online groups per se, but I sure do spend a lot of time visiting around. It has become one of the most rewarding parts of my already rich life, and makes me wonder how I ever managed BTM (Before the Mavens). You guys are the best!!

Erica Ridley said...

Bill, you rock! =)

Jackie Barbosa said...

Oh, Bill.

/Le swoon

I believe I'm beginning to understand the appeal of polygamy :).

Jackie Barbosa said...

When I look back on it, I've learned a TON from these groups and now I feel like it's my job to share what I know with others.

I totally agree, Carrie. Not that I know it all, by any means, but I sure feel I've garnered a ton of insight and information compared to where I started.

That said, I was chatting with our Friday guest yesterday and let's just say I learned a few things I hadn't known before that really surprised me. But mostly in a good way :)!

Jennifer Linforth said...

Oh. Do we blog to avoid scenes? *mind you I am NOT doing that now. Nope. Not me...*

I belong to several as well. AbsoluteWrite, a yahoo group for marketing, the blogs I stalk, the RWA loops... on top of that are the social networking sites. I also have a niche market I stay active on. Those are forums for fans of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. Since a forthcoming novel of mine continues that work, I stay active in those communities (and folks in those forums have come to expect me to be there.)
Now I am branching out to blogs about autism as I research my fourth book (and the one I am avoiding right now...)

My Live Journal is followed by many new writers and I update that to show them the process of taking an idea to publication. Enter being a author for the Unusual Historicals blog and the need for me to get a blogger account too.

Which made me meet the Mavens. I met you through a chapter member's blog. I have learned much with your topics in addition to being comforted by the fact that some of the things I think as a writer are universal. That is what keeps me coming back.

Like today...I am blogging to avoid killing a character and wrapping up a book.

But she really has to die. ;)

Anonymous said...

Too many, and I find as soon as I start become more involved in them my writing suffers. Therefore, after Wednesday, it's back to being scarce!!

Bill Clark said...

As if to punctuate my earlier remarks, I am pleased to report that a CARE package has arrived by pony express from Maven Darcy in Portland. I suspect food for the body (choclate-covered macadamia nuts) as well as for the spirit (books).

Whatever would I do without you guys??!!

Bill Clark said...

Oops! Bill manages to spell chocolate as it is pronounced rather than checking the dictionary in his eagerness to open the parcel.

Vicki said...

I love the blogs and the online friends I've met through them. For a while it took most of my writing time.

Now, I look at them in the morning (I don't write early, sorry CL) and during the day when I get the chance.

At night I no longer open email until I'm through writing for the night. It's the only way I can keep from spending most of the time there instead of in the story.

It's working for now... :)

Evangeline Holland said...

Oh I'm bad. A bad, bad girl. I join and re-join communities like crazy. If I have an idea for a thriller, I immediately search for a thriller community. When I had an idea for a historical mystery series, I pounded the pavement to find a group of his-myst writers. Then I end up chucking most of them when I'm like "I can do this on my own". But then I succumb to the disease all over again. I'm terrible.

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