I like to think about what this online world has done for writers. I suspect I'm not the only writer who spends time alone with relative ease. I don't turn on the radio or TV to have noise in the room or to hear the sound of someone's voice. Alone time is something writers with families crave. It's something that I guard. Sometimes even The Princess is a little too much company.
So, we have our online communities, people we "know" from the internet places we visit. We know slews of people we've never met. I interact with people every day on the internet. It's easier for a socially, er, limited person such as myself. Not that I don't love a good party or enjoy a day out with friends. I'm just saying that it's easier this way, maybe in ways that shouldn't be so easy.
I work with people like myself as well...people who will send an email to someone who sits on the other side of the room. Sue and I sat next to each other and would IM one another to have a private conversation.
So, who are these people I meet online, and how do I know they are who they say they are? People with little internet community experience are often exceedingly skeptical about the friendships formed online. They think of drooling pedophiles and get-rich-quick scammers and ask how I know these people are who they say they are. "They can say anything they want about themselves, and you'd never know if it's true or not."
It's true. The internet is a place where people can be solidly false or unflinchingly honest. They can create a persona and live out a fantasy existence or take a risk and reveal who they really are. What an interesting place.
But writing communities, although we have our share of screwballs, seem to be a place where we can join together and really work on our craft outside the confines of solitude. We can have our work critiqued or reviewed or just read by a variety of people without ever leaving our homes or seeing anyone face-to-face. If we don't like the way someone comes at us, we can simply delete them and move on...except for the brooders, that is.
So, when it comes to physically meeting other writers, it's wonderful and risky and exciting. I've gotten together with Jen, whom I met on an MSN writers forum. We've gotten together several times over the past 3 or 4 years, and I consider her to be a keeper, someone I will hold dear always. Now, when I think of her, I don't just think of her incredible talent as a novelist. I think of her smile, the hours we've spent jabbering about writing, and the pieces of her life she's shared with me.
Last night, I went to a reading of a writer whose work I love. Kathy Fish read some of her flash fiction at the University Bookstore here in Seattle. It was so cool meeting her and seeing what she looks like, hearing the lilt of her voice as she read the words I've read so many times. Now, I have her tone, her smile and that sliver of her personality I was able to feel in the half hour we chatted. Two other people from the same online community were in attendance, and it was wonderful getting to meet and connect with them as well. Both of them are editors of ezines I just adore. I was afraid I'd drool or burst into hysterical laughter or fall to my knees and beg them to publish me. I did none of those things, though, and they suffered me with grace. So, now I'll never be able to read their posts without picturing them and knowing their voices. It surprises me how much that changes things. For better or worse? Well, neither. It's just different. Not only have I seen and heard them, but I've now been seen and heard as well. That's the part I don't like. I'd much rather see and hear them without them ever seeing or hearing me.
In November, I'm going to a conference in San Diego, and I get to meet my dear friend, Marie. She has read and supported me with my writing for a long time now, and she's also been the recipient of many a whining session as I've gone through things over the past few years. We're going to be roomies at this conference, and I'm so excited I'm afraid I won't make it to November without wetting my pants. We actually talked to each other in the flesh over the phone a week ago, and it was amazing. She has a voice other than her great writer's voice... I mean a vocal voice. Wow.
Getting to know people on line is safe, but at some point, I've gotta just crawl out of my cave and join the physical world. So far, it's been a hoot.