All the Help I Need, Part 1

Writers’ Forums

Now I would like to talk about some of the reasons I will not give up on my education in spite of the pain that prevents me from working for long intervals. For one, beside the fact that I only need 18 credits, I have more confidence in my writing skills than I had years ago. My writing has improved tremendously over the last seven years and it shows.

Yet, for a long time I could not bring myself to write very often. I wrote a couple short stories and sporadically scribbled on novel WiPs I’d started back in my mid-thirties (or earlier), but nothing else. Publishers had dismissed nearly everything I submitted–stories, poetry, and a book–with barely a glance for so long that I became discouraged. Intellectually, I knew publishing worked this way, but I wasn’t ready for the stark reality of the business, and after fourteen years of trying I was reluctant to write very much.

This did not make sense, of course, since nearly every new piece I wrote from 2005 was better than the last. Around then I had discovered writers’ forums online, and began to subject my work to a slew of critiques. I gradually improved my understanding of the conventions for commercial genre fiction.

Before I get to the main course, I would like to say a few more words for these forums and the people I met on them.

The Chronicles Community

The Chronicles Community

One disadvantage to the critique forums is that any longstanding member who aspires to write can critique your work once you post it. Of course there will be some with minimal writing ability and little knowledge of convention who have convinced themselves they know it all. Writers asking for critiques do this too, but if they get out of hand no one will look at their work anymore, so it kind of balances out there.

A major advantage is that some of the writers are published authors, and they often share their experiences with writing and publishing in the forums. Some, like Teresa Edgerton, have a long history of publishing and fountains of wisdom to share. And since everyone is part of the same community, unknowns can find themselves in personal conversations with some of their favorite authors. That was how I got the interview with Teresa. I knew her from the forums and I had already read The Hidden Stars, so I asked her myself.

Teresa still maintains a strong presence on one of the two writers’ forums I use, SFFChronicles, which is based in the UK. Chronicles is the first one I joined back in 2005. I tried a few others for a while, but eventually I settled down in a semi-nomadic fashion between two communities. From then on, Chronicles and Absolute Write Water Cooler became indispensable tools to my writing.

Both of these forums, especially AW, have a lot more than critiques going for them. I’ve already mentioned the roles of Teresa Edgerton and other authors on Chronicles. They also have forums for publishers and editors to give advice, submission calls, writing exercises, etc. AW has more resources because the focus is different. Chronicles has resources for writers of genre fiction, but their site is geared toward SFF in general, not just the writing aspect, so there are more forums to discuss books, authors, movies, science (because many SF fans are also science buffs), and more. AW is all about writing; every forum provides essential resources for aspiring writers of all styles and genres (even comic books). Some of the moderators are agents or editors from a variety of backgrounds, and they tell writers what they look for in queries, synopses, proposals, and the writing itself. And they will answer questions. AW even includes information about scams and unreliable publishing practices, just like Preditors and Editors. Better, because members can post their experiences with fraud in detail to benefit the rest of the community.

There are many people at Chronicles and AW I’d like to thank; I just can’t possibly name them all. But I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, even (sometimes especially) the harsh criticisms, and everything the forums do. I suspect that forums like these can account for many of the gifted young writers I encountered at Towson University.

(Next: Part 2 – The Problem)


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