The end of this month also marks the end of my experiment in belonging to writing forums. It was quite the experience, and one episode in my life I can't just let fade away without some kind of tribute. So here goes.
At first, I was content to just join a writing forum. I knew I needed to connect with other writers, I needed advice on how to scale the mountain that is publishing, I needed to become a better writer. I also knew I had a modest amount of experience under my belt. After all, I'd been a rabid reader all my life, I'd been a critique partner before, in person, and I was willing to do the time and research it would take to up my game. I plunged into the writing pool. Some sites were full of participants, others less so. I quickly found the good spots where people had actually shared advice, if you took the time to read it. I made some initial connections, but became frustrated when the moderators for one forum suddenly stopped visiting, stopped giving advice and encouragement, just stopped everything.
I learned you can be categorized as a forum participant. There are those who are very vocal and eager to throw their experience around (most good and legit, others are full of hot air and like attention). There are those eager to get everyone else to do the research and work for them. There are lurkers who never say anything. There's the sweet novice, just starting the journey, and the jaded veteran dripping with sarcasm and reality-checks. The PAY ATTENTION TO ME NOW!!!! type is only one degree less annoying than the spammer who only posts to try to sell something. The morose mingle with the bubbly, the dewy-eyed with the predatory. It's a strange sort of place, with the same general end goal: to write and publish a book.
I was an amateur, not a novice, and I was willing to do the work and share what I found out in order to help others. I spent hours researching and sharing. Once that first initial forum proved a bust, I moved on and found another. The second one was huge. I mined through the threads for new information to add to what I'd already learned. While people were friendly, the forum was too large for me. It was impossible to make real connections without turning into someone annoying.
Third time was the charm. This one was suggested by a contact from the first forum. It was still fairly new, yet on the web long enough to have an established reputation for good information. It also had a forum format that allowed users to form their own groups. So I did. I used the forum search algorithms to send invites to anyone who fell under the same genre bracket as me, and the Speculative Fiction Group came into being.
It's a scary thing to find oneself as a moderator or administrator. I didn't claim to be anyone of note in the industry, or to be super in the know about it either. People tend to treat you that way when you're in a leadership role. It weirded me out sometimes. But there was something special about those first few years. Lots of people joined, and most stuck around and participated. We got group chat nights going, started up yearly critiquing marathons, shared industry news, and talked about all sorts of things. I met some amazing people and some really good writers. The best part, is most of the time, I didn't feel like I was sitting on some moderator pedestal; I was just one of the group.
I devoted more hours to critiquing. And I learned a ton. My insights as a reader bore fruit; and I was humbled a lot by my own deficiencies. I cheered when others met with success and mourned with those who didn't. I made new critique partners, some who are still with me today. Other people reached success and moved on. It was sad to see them go, but I understood. They'd outgrown a writing forum.
After a number of years, the host forum ended. My group moved to their own forum hosting site. We tried to be the same, but we weren't. And I had found my own writing path by then, diminishing my need to research and share things that were pertinent to the main body of remaining writers. I'd outgrown a writing forum. The biggest difference was that the writers in my forum weren't a bunch of novices looking for someone to guide them. They had at least amateur status or higher, knew where to find their resources, and really only wanted a safe place to share and critique each other's work. I didn't want to let anyone down, so I kept the forum up.
But my time there diminished; I'd become like the moderators from my first writing forum, absent a good deal. No one else wanted to sink in and do what I'd done to keep things robust and alive, at least not at the same level. They didn't have to; and I didn't really expect anyone to. So as hosting a forum became just another thing on my plate, and life became more demanding, I was advised to let it go. And I have. It's a bit of a relief, letting go of that responsibility, of the expectations I can no longer fulfill. Yet, I don't regret being part of a forum all those years. It served it's purpose.
Thank you to everyone who touched my life in any of those forums. Thank you for the lessons, for the experience, and for the collaboration. To anyone in search of a good writing forum, let me give this one parting piece of advice: a forum is only as good as you're willing to make it. Don't expect others to create the experience for you. It's a team effort, and you play a part in its success or failure.
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