I remember my time in virtual writing workshops and communities years back, most notably in the Zoetrope Virtual Studio. When I first joined Zoetrope in November 1998, I was quite the novice with maybe a dozen or two finished short stories and a bunch of false-start novels (that to this day are unfinished). At the time Zoe (as we affectionately called it) was a distinctly literary place filled with MFA writers and Literati wannabes. In a strange way, though, that’s exactly the crowd I needed to, at first oppose and then join, because the seriousness and attention to craft that crowd makes you adopt can be good for the wayward neophyte scribe, which I kind of was. Tough skin (hell, Teflon) was required in many cases in that kind of arena. I was a fairly good student of the craft and I’d like to think I benefitted from my association with that particular group. Hell, within a year or so I even became a fiction editor (and later a mentor).
Yet, by 2002 I had burned out on writing fiction and decided to get back to playing music in bands, purposefully not writing any fiction for a couple years to decompress the pressure I’d put on myself to be a writer of some significance (this was, I suppose, a pre-age-30 crisis and all).
By 2004 when I did dabble again in writing and workshoping, it was mostly picking up where I’d left off with micro and flash fiction, and experimenting with screenplays. Another break for performing music and starting a new family ensued between 2005- 2008.
When I came back to Zoe in the Fall of 2008 to start a novel chapters review group (a concept many haughty writers scoffed at), I mostly fell in with a completely different crowd than what I’d left behind years before. These scribes were genre writers, thankfully. The SpecFic crowd was less judgmental which was exactly what I needed at that point because I was more accomplished, skilled, and confident in those days, and was less enamored with laboring on written word and more obsessed about storytelling and characterization. Plot + Character equaled Story for me at that time. Also, a hearty number of these cats were doing D-i-Y Small Press publishing with a “we’re all in this together” kind of spirit and mindset. That certainly charmed this fella and lit a fire under me arse to actually pursue publishing more diligently.
Looking back, it seemed like with the literary crowd, at least in those days of the late 90s and early 2000s, it was more suspicious, like you were an interloper (or more pointedly, a stumbling, bumbling neophyte who’s likely a fraud). In contrast, with the genre writing bunch a decade later, particularly the speculative fiction writers (horror, science fiction and fantasy) it was like a welcoming Outsiders Club.
Today, I belong to no writing groups or workshops or community of that kind, virtual or otherwise. There’s a communal part of me that’s bummed about that, but the loner wolf side of me is adamant that it’s not a necessary thing and likely just another distraction to my overall goal. Can’t really argue with that. Besides, there’s no way to recapture the novelty of what once was in the pioneering days of online social networking. Like the loss of virginity, that particular innocence is gone forever. And thus, this wolf will likely never belong to a pack again.