by Paul Jessup
I don’t think I could exist without a group of like-minded writers meeting and discussing things constantly online. Whether it’s the ad-hoc social networks cobbled together in various Twitter feeds and Facebook walls, or if it’s random secret Slack Channels (hello Broken Circles!) or forums full of pro and semi-pro writers (SFWA forums, Codex forums, etc.), I need a group of fellow word hacks to keep myself sane.
It’s not like this is something new. Fellow writers of genre fiction have always sought out others just like them, way back into the early days of pulp. Writers have always traded letters, or published fanzines, or attended conventions. It’s just these days, what with Twitter and everything else, things have gotten global.
And it’s a great thing. Writing is a lonely business, full stop. And finding other writers who not only appreciate the same authors, but also have the same goals when writing and critiquing each other, is an amazing gift. It not only strikes at the lonely heart in the center of all misfit writers who are about as sociable as angry clams, it also gives one a feeling of purpose and community. It gives you a voice that, with a group, can help move things and shake things up in the fiction world itself.
It’s how movements get started, like New Weird, New Wave, Cyberpunk, and the rest. A manifesto being a sort of group mind that rises up out of shared interests and creates a small time zeitgeist that turns thoughts into a laser beam of creativity. That’s another awesome thing about having a gang of writers to call your own: the creativity! Oh. There is nothing like it. Bouncing ideas back and forth, just jamming on some weird random radio thought into gels into a solid architecture of words and thoughts. It’s amazing!
But there is a downside to this whole social networking thing. Some people are bad actors. They’re out to just climb the ladder, to use you as a stepping stone to a perceived success. They become friends with you not out of the joy of connection of like interests, but instead to get themselves closer to whatever they perceive of as success. The minute they see you as useless, they will stop being your friend and go elsewhere. If you can’t promote them, they don’t care about you, end of story.
There are others, too, who only use social media and social networking for self-promotion. These are the brand builders, and they can be sniffed out a mile away. There is a falseness to their Twitter or Facebook feeds. It reads like a constant scream of self-promotion. These kinds of feeds get muted quickly or unfollowed, or in worst cases banned post-haste.
Then there are those even worse than the self-promoters and ladder-climbers. There are those who are in it for the hate. For that rush of a feeling they get screaming death threats and starting flame wars. These are the people who get excited by the drama they stir up, and just love to sit back and watch it all burn down. Sad, too, because once upon a time twitter and the rest weren’t filled to the brim with anger and hate. But these days, it’s getting harder and harder to just talk to people and discuss the things you enjoy without an anonymous user account piping up and screaming death threats at you.
That’s not to say it’s all-bad. Like I said above, the group of ad-hoc writer friends can be a lifeline. They can keep you sane, steer you in the right direction, provide a much-needed laugh on a rough day or even just commiserate over the madness of the publishing field. It’s a brutal field, and you need that sort of thing to survive every day. If you find a group, stick with it. Hang onto them through the years.
I’ve known most of my good writing friends for well over a decade now. We’ve survived downturns and upturns in each other’s careers. We’ve known shared friends who have passed away, and mourned them from afar. We’ve seen the fads of different subgenres rise up and die off just as quickly as they came.
And we’ve sat back and watched it all. It’s a wonderful community, isn’t it? And with the internet, it’s just getting larger and larger. These days it feels like it’s going to consume the whole world.
Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. With a career spanning over ten years in the field, he’s had works published in so many magazines he’s lost count and three or four books published in the small press. You can visit him at http://pauljessup.com, or Twitter at http://twitter.com/pauljessup